Does Vitamin A Deficiency Cause Aging?

Vitamin A and Aging

You would almost have to live under a rock to not have seen vitamin A (aka retinol or retinyl palmitate)  in anti-aging products for skin creams and potions.  I admit, they are appealing to me as I have reached my forties as well.  What’s more, they seem to work.  But, if it works so well topically, then why wouldn’t it work BETTER from the diet?  Then, you can saturate all cells from the inside out.   Carrots are very famous for their levels of vitamin A.  The truth is they are not rich in vitamin A, they are rich in carotenoids, vitamin A precursors, but more on this later.

I eat a ton of carrots.  I should look 18 again, right? After listening to my favorite pod-caster, Rhonda Patrick, PhD, talk about huge gene variation from person-to-person in the ability to convert dietary sources of carotenoids into active vitamin A, the wheels began turning.  What if a huge percentage of the population can’t really convert our carrots (or carotenoids) into the anti-aging type of vitamin A, known as retinol, inside the body?   Maybe this is aging people faster.

Vitamin A Absorption And Conversion

Bunch of fresh carrots with tops by The Healthy RD

This research work still needs to be done. But consider this fact: about 70-90% of ingested retinol, or active vitamin A, is absorbed, but even under optimal circumstances, only 3% or less of carotenoids are absorbed. This is an average.  Remember, most people are not average.  More importantly, could people save themselves hundreds of dollars on topical creams and dollops of potions simply by tweaking their diet? Or do both for double the effect?

How Does Vitamin A Keep You Young?

Vitamin A or vitamin A derivatives in beauty products appear as retinol, retinyl palmitate  in the ingredients, or have similar names, and many sell for prime dollars, luring us in to make us look younger.  Retinols work by triggering surface skin cells to turn over quickly, making way for new cell growth underneath. They also slow down the breakdown of collagen, and thicken the deeper layer of skin.   Logic would follow that we would want to optimize vitamin A on the inside, as dermal production begins with the precursors that come from our diet.  Almost everything comes from our diet if you want to get philosophical about it.  We now know that certain foods even stimulate production of new stem cells. Stay tuned for this in another blog.

Vitamin A and Your Genetic Potential

Vitamin A is an active gene regulator, and is also important for attending to reducing the body’s response to toxins and inflammation.  Let that sink in for just a minute.  It regulates genes, so really, it can manipulate what your mamagave you.   Vitamin A blood status has been related to improved eye health, improved cognition and memory, and even tied to improved hormone production above and beyond all the effects described above on the skin.  It would seem indispensable if you think of the roles it may play in chronic disease, as we know all of them, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, autoimmunity and cancer are all related to inflammation.

However, it is no surprise to anyone reading this that our diets have changed dramatically in the last century, and this has shifted patterns of nutrient intake, including vitamin A.   I invite you to bring yourself back 100 years in time.  We ate the food that was available, and didn’t waste much on the table; humans have had times of scarcity more than excess since the dawn of time.  People ate organ meats, liver, fatty fish, and cod liver oil at their tables regularly in the year 1917.   Most people now cringe at the idea of the majority of these foods.  It turns out that there are some pretty important nutrients in foods like these, including activated vitamin A.

Should You Supplement Vitamin A?

You might be coming to a similar conclusion that I did at this point.  Maybe some people need more activated vitamin A.  With activated vitamin A serving to bind to nuclear receptors and regulate how are genes are working, maybe we shouldn’t strive for guessing if we have adequacy.  Maybe this should be tested.  Can you go to your doctor and get this tested?  It’s not going to be part of standard panels that are drawn, and probably won’t come up in the thought process.  Why?Allopathic medical models currently operate on volume business to keep the doors open, and as you might imagine, coding, crunches on practiioners’ time,  and billing gets complicated for nutritional labs.  Nutritional lab tests can give us these results.  Email me to find out how.

So is vitamin A the fountain of youth?  It is probably like an electrical conduit in the fountain.  Keeping it in context, no nutrient works in isolation.   You need plenty of vitamin D and other cofactor nutrients for it to work properly.  It may not pay off to just pop a pill of cod liver oil after running to McDonald’s or smoking a cigarette, in other words.

Cod liver gelcaps

Since vitamin A is such a bio-active compound, toxicity can occur at high doses, so is best from naturally sourced types of foods.  But if you cringe at the thought of this, you can always get gene tested, blood level tested, and supplement accordingly.    And that just may work better than any dermatologist’s cream on the planet.

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body and is shared for educational purposes only. Consult your doctor or healthcare provider before making changes to your supplement regimen or lifestyle.

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Rhonda Patrick, PhD:

Institute of Medicine (US) Panel on Micronutrients. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2001. 4, Vitamin A. Available from:

Leung WC et al, Two common single nucleotide polymorphisms in the gene encoding beta-carotene 15,15′-monoxygenase alter beta-carotene metabolism in female volunteers.FASEB J. 2009 Apr;23(4):1041-53. doi: 10.1096/fj.08-121962. Epub 2008 Dec 22.​

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