What causes vitamin A toxicity?

Updated: Dec 26, 2017
  • Author: Mark Rosenbloom, MD, MBA; Chief Editor: Michael A Miller, MD  more...
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Answer

An important fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin A’s basic molecule is a retinol, or vitamin A alcohol. After absorption, retinol is transported via chylomicrons to the liver, where it is either stored as retinol ester or reexported into the plasma in combination with retinol-binding protein for delivery to tissue sites.

Dietary vitamin A is obtained from preformed vitamin A (or retinyl esters), which is found in animal foods (liver, milk, kidney, fish oil), fortified foods, and drug supplements. Dietary vitamin A is also obtained from provitamin A carotenoids from plant sources, principally carrots. Dietary vitamin A is available mainly as preformed vitamin A in western countries and as provitamin A carotenoids in developing countries.

Supplements are typically 10,000-50,000 international units (IU) per capsule. Fish-liver oils may contain more than 180,000 IU/g. The acute toxic dose of vitamin A is 25,000 IU/kg, and the chronic toxic dose is 4000 IU/kg every day for 6-15 months. (Beta-carotene [ie, provitamin A] is converted to retinol but not rapidly enough for acute toxicity.)

IU is not a Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations [JACHO]–approved abbreviation, and it must be spelled out on patients' charts and in prescriptions.


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