Vitamin A is composed of several chemical compounds. One of these is vitamin A palmitate, the preformed version of vitamin A. It is easily absorbed by your body and stored in your liver. Vitamin A palmitate is found naturally in animal foods and synthetically in supplements. Although beneficial for your vision, bone health, reproduction and immunity, there are concerns surrounding excessive use of palmitate supplements.
Vitamin A palmitate is a form of retinol, well known for its use in skin care and anti-aging products.
Preformed Versus Provitamin A Forms
Vitamin A is not just a single nutrient. Your diet consists of two main forms of vitamin A. These are:
Preformed vitamin A:
This group of compounds is called retinoids. Two of the more well-known forms are retinol and retinyl palmitate, also known as
vitamin A palmitate. This is the bioavailable type of vitamin A and the most physiologically active form in foods. Retinoids are fat-soluble and found in animal products, fortified foods and vitamin supplements.
Provitamin A carotenoids: These water-soluble carotenoids must be converted by your body into the bioavailable, active form of retinol before they can be used. Carotenoids are found in plant-based foods.
Daily RAE Requirements
The Food and Nutrition Board has set recommendations on the daily amount of vitamin A necessary to support health, including reproductive and immune function, gene expression and vision. The daily recommended dietary allowance for the preformed vitamin A of Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE) is:
- Children: 1 to 3 years, 300 micrograms RAE; 4 to 8 years, 400 micrograms RAE; 9 to 13 years, 600 micrograms RAE
- Ages 14 years and older: males, 900 micrograms RAE; females, 700 micrograms RAE
- Pregnant women: 750 to 770 micrograms RAE
- Breastfeeding: 1200 to 1300 micrograms RAE
Risk of Deficiency
Vegetarians, vegans and others who have a restricted diet and avoid meat may develop a deficiency of vitamin A palmitate. Also, certain medical conditions, including liver disease, may prevent proper absorption of the vitamin.
Since retinoid is important for the health of your eyes, a common symptom of vitamin A deficiency is dry eyes and night blindness, which can lead to permanent blindness. Anemia can also result from a low level of the vitamin, according to Mayo Clinic.
Vitamin A Palmitate in Food
Vitamin A palmitate is found in all animal products including:
- Meat, including beef, pork, poultry and organ meats
- Dairy including cheese, butter and milk. Since vitamin A is lost when the fat is removed from low-fat and non-fat dairy products, the addition of palmitate in milk replaces the vitamin.
- Breakfast cereals fortified with palmitate.
Vitamin A Palmitate Supplements
As an oral supplement, vitamin A is beneficial if you have a poor or limited diet or have a condition that increases your vitamin A requirements, such as pancreatic disease, eye disease or measles.
Dietary supplements containing palmitate are often labeled preformed vitamin A and retinyl palmitate. They are in the form of retinal, which is easily absorbed by your body. Supplements with vitamin A palmitate are sold over-the-counter as oral vitamin A tablets or capsules and are often available in multivitamin supplements.
Larger doses of palmitate for use to treat a deficiency can be administered by a physician in an injectable form.
Side Effects and Safety
High doses of natural or synthetic retinoids may override your body's own control mechanisms and cause potential side effects. And, because they are fat-soluble and may accumulate in your body, high doses of retinol or retinoic acid supplements may lead to toxicity and could raise your risk of heart disease, cancer and all-cause mortality.
Taking a single dose of over 200,000 micrograms of vitamin A can cause:
- Blurry vision
Mayo Clinic warns that taking a daily dose of more than 10,000 micrograms of vitamin A supplements can cause long-term effects such as:
- Bone thinning
- Liver damage
- Skin irritation
- Pain in the joints and bone
- Birth defects
Skin Care and Toxicity
Retinoids are well known for their use in cosmetics and skin care. Harvard Health Publishing says retinoids have been shown to reduce fine lines and wrinkles associated with aging by increasing the production of collagen. Retinol also helps improve the appearance of photoaged skin and increases cell turnover.
However, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics warns that retinol may be harmful to your health in the forms of retinoic acid and retinyl palmitate and should not be used at high doses, especially in cosmetic products such as anti-aging creams, moisturizers, foundations and sunscreens.
The Environmental Working Group database has reported that retinyl palmitate, in combination with sunlight, may increase skin cancer risk and tumor formation in animals. In addition, the EWG rates the potential of developmental and reproductive toxicity as high.
Read more: How to Use Vitamin A on Your Face
Vitamin A and Measles
Measles is a highly contagious, serious disease that begins with a high fever and rash. Complications from the disease can include blindness, brain swelling, severe diarrhea, ear infections or pneumonia.
The World Health Organization reports that severe measles is more likely to develop in children with a vitamin A deficiency. It recommends that all children with measles be given vitamin A supplements to restore normal levels during measles, which can help prevent eye damage and blindness. Vitamin A supplements have been successfully shown to reduce the incidence of death from measles by 50 percent.
Palmitate and Eye Health
Vitamin A is important for normal vision. Research shows that vitamin A palmitate is an effective treatment for an eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa. Retinitis pigmentosa is a rare genetic disorder involving the deterioration of cells in the retina at the back of the eye. Common symptoms include night blindness and loss of peripheral vision.
The National Eye Institute reported that a dose of 15,000 IU per day of vitamin A palmitate slowed the progression of retinitis pigmentosa in adults.
In 2018, a study published in JAMA Ophthalmology examined the effect of vitamin A palmitate supplement in children with retinitis pigmentosa. Findings supported an age-adjusted dose of vitamin A palmitate could also be helpful in the management of retinitis pigmentosa in children.
Read more: Vision Problems Caused by Vitamin Deficiency
Palmitate and Lung Cancer
Linus Pauling Institute warns that high-dose supplementation of preformed vitamin A should be avoided in smokers or in those that have an elevated risk for lung cancer due to environmental exposure to pollutants. They cited a study that compared people given retinyl palmitate to a group given a placebo.
After four years, researchers found the incidence of lung cancer was 28 percent higher in the group supplemented with vitamin A palmitate compared to the control group. But after six years, there was no difference in the two groups. The researchers concluded that more study is needed to determine the risk of cancer with preformed vitamin A.
Toxicity From Hypervitaminosis A
Excessive use of high doses of preformed vitamin A supplements (retinol), for a duration of weeks or months, may cause significant toxicity known as hypervitaminosis A. Acute toxicity can result from the consumption of a single, large dose of 30 to 60 milligrams of vitamin A in adults, according to the American International Medical University.
When vitamin A palmitate is discontinued, symptoms of hypervitaminosis A may subside rapidly, the rate dependant on the amount of vitamin A already built up in the tissues. In extreme cases, hypervitaminosis A may be fatal. Excessive intake of the carotenoid form of vitamin A is not associated with the toxicity, however.
- Mercola: Basic Vitamin A Primer
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Vitamin A
- National Institutes of Health: Vitamin A
- Mayo Clinic: Vitamin A
- National Institutes of Health: Vitamin A Fact Sheet for Consumers
- MedicineNet: Medical Definition of Palmitate
- PubChem: Vitamin A Palmitate
- Harvard Health Publishing: Do Retinoids Really Reduce Wrinkles?
- Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: Retinol and Retinol Compounds
- Environmental Working Group: Skin Deep: Retinol (Vitamin A)
- World Health Organization: Measles
- National Eye Institute: Facts About Retinitis Pigmentosa: What Is Retinitis Pigmentosa?
- JAMA Ophthalmology: Association of Vitamin A Supplementation With Disease Course in Children With Retinitis Pigmentosa
- Oregon State University: Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin A
- American International Medical University: Hypervitaminosis A: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Management
- Chuming Pharma: Vitamin A Palmitate
- "British Medical Journal"; A Randomised Controlled Trial; C. Carilier et al.; October 1993