Vitamin A Deficiency and IBD

People With IBD, And Especially Kids, May Experience A Lack Of Vitamin A

Carrots and Spinach
Carrots and spinach are too foods that can, when eaten in large amounts, have a significant effect on the color of your stool. Image © Wong Mei Teng

Your mother may have told you to eat your carrots because they are good for eyesight. Don't look now, but your mother was right. Vitamin A, also known as beta-carotene or retinol, is not only important for vision but also for bones, skin and reproductive organ growth, hormone creation, and tissue repair. Vitamin A deficiencies are not common, but people who have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are at risk due to malabsorption of fat and vitamins.

Benefits of Vitamin A

Vitamin A also helps the body fight infection in at least two ways. Lymphocytes are white blood cells that fight infection in the body. Lymphocytes need vitamin A to function properly and protect the body from harmful infections. Vitamin A is also important for maintaining the linings of the eye, mucous membranes, and the respiratory, urinary and intestinal tracts. These linings work to prevent bacteria and viruses from entering the body and causing infections.

Who May Lack Vitamin A

Healthy adults can have up to one year's worth of vitamin A stored in the liver, while children may have only a few weeks' worth. Because of this potential for a deficiency in vitamin A as well as other vitamins and minerals, children with IBD may need to have their blood checked for vitamin deficiencies. People with Crohn's disease who have inflammation in the small intestine are especially vulnerable to a vitamin A deficiency, because enough vitamin A might not be absorbed.

Too much vitamin A can be toxic, so supplements should be used with care, and preferably under the supervision of a physician.

Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin A Deficiency

Deficiencies in vitamin A can cause night blindness; hinder bone growth; increase susceptibility to infection such as colds, flues, pneumonia, and bronchitis; and cause dry, rough skin.

Diarrhea, inflammation in the small intestine, and malabsorption of fat can all contribute to a loss of vitamin A.

Foods Containing Vitamin A

Vitamin A can be found in many foods, but these, in particular, have significant amounts:

  • Apricots
  • Broccoli
  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Liver
  • Mangos
  • Red peppers
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potatoes


Krok KL, Lichtenstein GR. "Nutrition in Crohn's disease." Curr Opin Gastroenterol 2003;19:148-153. 14 Sept 2009.

Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health. "Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin A and Carotenoids ." National Institutes of Health 23 Apr 2006. 14 Sept 2009.