Vitamin A is a group of compounds that includes retinoids and carotenoids. Vitamin A from plant sources is a carotenoid that your body can transform into a retinol, while vitamin A from animal sources is already in a form of retinol that's easily absorbed by your body. Vitamin A palmitate is the form of vitamin A found naturally in animal sources and also produced synthetically.
Vitamin A palmitate, also called retinyl palmitate or retinol palmitate, is found in animal sources. Daily dietary sources of vitamin A palmitate are found in liver, fish, whole milk, eggs, cheese and butter. Vitamin A palmitate is lost when the fat is removed from these sources, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. Plant sources of vitamin A are carotenoids, found in alpha- and beta-carotene-rich fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids are good sources of vitamin A but not of vitamin A palmitate.
Vitamin A palmitate is also synthetically produced and used to fortify foods such as dairy products that have lost vitamin A palmitate in processing and breakfast cereals. Vitamin A palmitate supplements in liquid, powder and pill form are used to treat vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A palmitate is fat-soluble and can accumulate to toxic levels in your body. Too much vitamin A palmitate can be acutely toxic, too, and cause various symptoms such as headache, nausea or vomiting, according to a study headed by C. Carlier published in the 1993 issue of the "British Medical Journal." Adverse health effects such as birth defects, liver abnormalities and reduced bone mineral density may result from taking too much vitamin A. So before taking any vitamin A supplement, consult your physician or other health care provider.
Vitamin A palmitate is manufactured in synthetic form for use in cosmetics to treat skin problems including acne and wrinkles. Natural retinoids are used in over-the-counter skin creams, but synthetic vitamin A palmitate, tretinoin and isotretinoin, is available by prescription only. Other uses for vitamin A palmitate include treatment of eye disorders such as Bitot's spot, dry eye and retinitis pigmentosa.
Distinguishing between those vitamin A products that contain carotenoids, which are not the same as retinol, and those that contain vitamin A palmitate can be confusing. Vitamin A from animal sources is referred to as preformed vitamin A. Preformed vitamin A is called by various names, depending on whether it is natural or synthetic. Some common names of vitamin A palmitate include retinyl palmitate, vitamin A, vitamin A (retinol), vitamin A acetate (retinyl acetate), retinol palmitate and retinyl palmitate.