Intended for healthcare professionals


Reducing vitamin A deficiency

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 01 February 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:317

Could save the eyesight and lives of countless children

  1. Andrew R Potter, Ophthalmologista
  1. a Centre Hospitalier Departmental, BP 2248, Abomey, Republic of Benin, West Africa

    The World Health Organisation considers vitamin A deficiency to be a public health problem in over 60 countries, putting at risk the lives and eyesight of an estimated 250 million preschool children.1 It is a major cause of morbidity and mortality2 and the single most important cause of blindness in children in developing countries,3 and it is entirely preventable.

    Our bodies need vitamin A for the maintenance of epithelial surfaces, for immune competence,4 for the normal functioning of the retina, and for growth, development, and reproduction. We obtain vitamin A from two sources: firstly, from fat soluble vitamin A present in milk, eggs, butter, and fish liver oils; secondly as provitamin A carotenoids in dark green leafy vegetables, red palm oil, and in red or orange coloured fruits and vegetables such as mango, papaya, sweet potato, and carrots. Most of the ingested retinol is absorbed in the small intestine and transported to the liver, where it is stored as retinyl palmitate. When required it is released into the blood stream in combination with retinol binding protein and is taken up by target cells throughout the body.

    When intake of vitamin A is inadequate to meet the body's …

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