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Happy Vitamin A Season!

By: Dr. Janice Piro, DC, DABCI & Dr. Natalie Regalado, DC

 

People like to ask each other what their favorite season is.  We’ve noticed that the answer is most frequently Fall.  The other seasons are fine, but simply cannot compare.  Consider this list of reasons: Fall ushers in a string of delightful holidays, football season, cooler weather, and of course, the familiar spices, distinctive smells and bright colors of Fall’s seasonal foods.

The golden hues of the great variety of squashes and gourds signal the season is here.  What lies behind the magic of these vibrant hues in our produce?  Pigments known as carotenoids paint our carrots, spinach, kale, peppers, squash and pumpkins deep green, vibrant yellow, and tantalizing orange and red.

Carotenoids are oil-soluble plant pigments with multiple known health benefits.  Some can be converted by the body to the active form of vitamin A known as retinol.  There are over 600 known naturally occurring carotenoids in nature.  Perhaps the best-known carotenoid is beta-carotene, which has been found to have the most vitamin A activity of all the carotenoids.  

Many common ailments can be attributed to a nutritional deficiency in Vitamin A.  These include, but are not limited to, difficulty resisting infections especially of the urinary tract and respiratory system, dry eyes, dry or rough skin, ringing in the ears, and growth retardation in children.  However, including these Vitamin A rich foods in the diet may not be enough.  They also have to be fully digested and absorbed.  Pancreatic disorders, inflammatory intestinal diseases and liver dysfunction can inhibit the digestion and absorption of foods rich in Vitamin A.  Many people unknowingly have some compromised function of these organs and are not fully digesting and absorbing their foods in general.  This is an important problem that should not be ignored and can be assessed by a qualified natural medicine practitioner.

It is common knowledge that carrots are good for the eyes.  Plenty of research has been done supporting the claim that carotenoids are the nutrient in carrots that benefit the eyes.  In fact, another well-known sign of vitamin A deficiency is night blindness (or difficulty seeing in dim light).  Recently, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology (July 24, 2012) looked at 108 subjects with early age-related macular degeneration.  Supplementing with a combination of high-quality carotenoids known as lutein and zeaxanthin improved retinal function in the test group.

Carotenoids also act as antioxidants, protecting the cells of our bodies against free radical damage.  As such, they can have a powerful anti-aging effect.  Choosing the brightest produce confers the maximum benefit here.

Much research has been done showing that carotenoids enhance the immune system and protect against cancer.  According to these studies, carotenoids enhance communication between cells, which may prevent the overgrowth of cells and possibly inhibit cancer.

As the sunbathing of summer draws to a close and the need for increased immune protection begins to dawn, the availability of a nutrient that addresses, among other things, better skin health and improved immunity, becomes featured in our cuisine.  May you enjoy the vibrant carotenoids in your food this Fall and also benefit from their many healthful rewards.

October 2012

 

 

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