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Vitamin A Palmitate: Benefits & Side Effects

vitamin a palmitate
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What is Vitamin A Palmitate?

Vitamin A is a powerful, essential nutrient and antioxidant that helps cells grow, bones develop and the immune system work properly. Vitamin A not only supports our vision and smooths our skin, but also reduces inflammation. Its health benefits are profuse and popular all over the world.

Vitamin A — the name sounds so simple and elementary. But vitamin A is a little more complex than its basic label. It’s almost like a family of chemical compounds. Perhaps you have heard of vitamin A variants and wondered:

  • What is retinyl palmitate? It’s on many product labels.
  • Which vitamin A contains beta-carotene?
  • Why does one vitamin have various confusing subtitles like retinol, retinal and retinoic acid?
  • What is vitamin A palmitate doing in cereal?

There are two different categories of vitamin A — the carotenoids and the retinoids. Both types are present in the foods we eat, and both types have benefits for a healthy body (x).

Vitamin A palmitate falls into the retinoid category. This type is more easily absorbed by the body, and is often used in health supplements. Vitamin A palmitate has a variety of aliases such as preformed vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, retinyl ester and retinol.

Vitamin A palmitate can be found in animal-based foods, including meat and eggs as well as dairy products. Liver, fish and fortified cereals are also popular sources of vitamin A palmitate.

Vitamin A palmitate shows up on shelves in products such as:

  • Personal Care Items. Lotions, acne treatments and anti-aging products contain vitamin A palmitate. Research suggests that vitamin A palmitate may actually help reduce wrinkles, fine lines and acne.
  • Health Products. Vitamin pills, supplements and eye drops can contain vitamin A palmitate.

What is an Antioxidant?

One of the properties that makes vitamin A palmitate so powerful is that its an antioxidant. Getting to the molecular level, antioxidants are agents that neutralize harmful free radicals. Free radicals are uncharged molecules wandering unhinged within the body. The toxic byproducts of oxygen metabolism, free radicals are reactive, destructive and short lived. Left to themselves, they can create serious issues and disrupt normal body systems. They create “oxidative stress,” a situation where free radicals are wreaking havoc faster than the body can conquer them. This is where antioxidants (such as vitamin A) come in.

Antioxidants, however, are molecules that come to rescue the body from oxidative stress by donating an electron to dismantle the chaotic chain reactions caused by free radicals. Antioxidant enzymes are made inside the body, but are also found in nutrient-rich fresh fruits and vegetables, green tea and red wine. Health supplements loaded with antioxidants are also available (x).

Benefits of Vitamin A Palmitate

Vitamin A for Acne

The antioxidant properties of vitamin A help combat acne. Oxidative stress can cause upheaval in the oil-producing sebaceous glands. When the body is compromised by free radicals, the sebaceous glands can produce imbalanced amounts of oil (sebum). This makes it easier for acne bacteria to collect and create blemishes (x).

The antioxidant skills of vitamin A reduce the amount of sebum produced by the sebaceous glands and also assist the body in shedding dead skin cells. However, eating foods rich in vitamin A can help balance the body’s production of sebum. Doctors also use topical and oral supplements that use synthetic vitamin A, or retinol, as an active ingredient. The vitamin A stimulates new skin cells to grow and prevent dead skin cells from clogging the pores.

Since the 1980’s, these synthetic retinoids have been used effectively to attack acne and other skin problems. The trade names for these products include Accutane, Retin-A and Sortret. Those who desire a natural supplement instead of a prescription for acne may find success using retinyl palmitate or other vitamin A supplements. These can be effective both as an oral supplement or a topical ointment (xx).

Vitamin A for Skin Health

Vitamin A can help other skin issues besides acne. A boost of vitamin A can help skin that’s dry, rough or scaly. Conditions like psoriasis or keratosis pilaris are also commonly treated with foods rich in vitamin A (x). Doctors may prescribe synthetic retinoids to treat certain skin conditions, but some natural health practitioners have had success treating the skin with natural sources of vitamin A. Some of the skin conditions treated with vitamin A include eczema, cold sores, wounds, burns, sunburn and ichthyosis (x). Vitamin A retinoids can also treat wrinkles and lines of aging by stimulating collagen production and new blood vessels. This improves skin color, diminishes age spots and softens rough, scaly patches of skin. In studies, this has usually taken from six months to a year of treatment (x).

Vitamin A for Eye Health

  • Clinical studies at Harvard Medical School combined a treatment of vitamin A palmitate plus natural foods to increase natural vision in individuals diagnosed with several eye diseases (x).
  • Columbia University researchers used a synthetic form of vitamin A to slow the progression of a genetic eye disease called Stargardt’s disease (x). This condition typically causes vision loss at a young age.
  • The National Eye Institute funds research to explore the link between vitamin A and retinal eye diseases, which could provide promising reports for the future.

Vitamin A for Illness

Vitamin A is friendly to the immune system and plays a part in resisting infection. Scientists believe that vitamin A also encourages the regeneration of mucosal barriers, which block infection (x).

A lack of vitamin A is connected with an increased risk of disease in areas where vitamin A deficiencies are common.

  • For children with measles, the World Health Organization recommends a high-dose vitamin A supplement for treatment. This has reduced the risk of severe side effects (x).
  • Lack of vitamin A may also increase risk for tuberculosis (x). Another study confirmed that subjects with the highest intake of vitamin A had the least risk of tuberculosis (x).
vitamin a palmitate

Vitamin A as Retinyl Palmitate

Retinyl palmitate is a common, synthetic addition to vitamin A supplements. It’s available as an injection or in oral capsules. Retinyl palmitate is:

  • Used to treat vitamin A deficiency
  • Added to milk to replace the vitamins lost in processing
  • An ingredient in skin care products
  • Used in dry eye solutions

Retinyl palmitate is fat soluble and overdosing can lead to hypervitaminosis A.

Retinyl palmitate has been in the news as an ingredient in sunscreen. It was targeted to be removed from sunscreen because high doses allegedly encouraged cancer growth in lab animals. Despite an investigation and much publicity, though, an independent study infers that there is no evidence that retinyl palmitate in sunscreen causes cancer in humans (x).

The Other Vitamin A

Getting back to the family tree of vitamin A, the other branch of vitamin A besides the retinoids is the carotenoids (x). The carotenoid branch of vitamin A is also called provitamin A. One of the most well-known and important carotenoids is beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is the famously orange pigment common in carrots, sweet potatoes and other plant foods.

Provitamin A is typically present in plant-based foods as opposed to animal products. Most of the provitamin A we get from our diet comes from tomato products, carrots, broccoli, leafy greens, cantaloupe, squash and some vegetable oils (x). However, carotenoids are not immediately available to the body. They must first be converted into retinoids, the other form of vitamin A. Converting a carotenoid into a retinoid can be difficult for some individuals, and this can lead to a vitamin A deficiency (x).

Not Enough Vitamin A?

Most people who live in developed countries generally get enough vitamin A. In undernourished global areas, however, vitamin A deficiency can be common. A lack of vitamin A can result in a dry cornea, corneal ulcers, retinal damage and vision loss. Night blindness is a first sign of a vitamin A deficiency — the ancient Egyptians would cure this by eating liver; now we know that liver is high in natural vitamin A (x, x).

Too Much Vitamin A?

Vitamin A palmitate is fat soluble instead of water soluble. This means that any excess vitamin A doesn’t get washed out through urine, but gets stored in the body. This stored excess can interfere with good health. Studies show that an overdose of vitamin A can suppress bone repair and contribute to osteoporosis. Too much vitamin A can also cause nausea, stomach pain and vomiting. Moreover, long-term abnormally high levels of vitamin A can cause coarse hair, dry lips, rough skin and severe headaches.

Vitamin A derived from natural, whole foods does not cause toxicity. Abnormal and toxically high body levels of vitamin A is called hypervitaminosis A. Sometimes this occurs because supplemental vitamin A comes from more than one source. If you are taking fish oils in addition to vitamin A capsules, you may be exceeding the recommended daily limits. Discuss your vitamin A supplements with a health professional (x).

Vitamin A Dosage

The top dosage of vitamin A set by the National Academy of Sciences is 10,000 IU per day. This limit specifically refers to fat soluble vitamin A such as vitamin A palmitate. This recommendation does not include intake of foods with high beta-carotene levels, or other food sources of vitamin A (x). Taking too much supplemental vitamin A can cause symptoms such as:

  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Joint pain
  • Skin irritation
  • Dizziness
  • Intracranial pressure
  • Coma

Vitamin A Side Effects & Cautions

Vitamin A is safe during pregnancy and while breastfeeding if you follow the recommended dosage. Taking higher doses can cause miscarriage and birth defects. Consult a health professional before supplementing with vitamin A palmitate if you have:

  • A history of alcohol abuse
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Acne vulgaris
  • Food absorption issues
  • A previous history of vitamin A toxicity

The Bottom Line

The story of vitamin A is simple, but also very complex. Vitamin A palmitate, or preformed vitamin A, is one part of the family tree that carries two main branches and a variety of nicknames. In all of its various forms and titles, vitamin A is an essential, important nutrient for a healthy body. Vitamin A palmitate serves as a healing balm for acne by encouraging the growth of new skin cells. It also helps maintain good vision and boosts the immune system while working as an antioxidant, rescuing the body from the tyranny of oxidative stress. Vitamin A palmitate is present in a wide variety of supplements and contained in many foods. Nobody should have to live without their share.

About the author

Ryan Quigley

Graduate of Longwood University in Virginia. Part-time sports journalist covering the Vegas Golden Knights.


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