Our bodies require certain nutrients to function. That might lead us to think that more is automatically better, but that's not the case. In fact, getting too much of a health-promoting vitamin or mineral can sometimes cause harm.
Today we'll take a close look at one such compound: Vitamin A, which is essential for both our overall health and bone health. However, studies have found that over-supplementation with certain forms of Vitamin A increases fracture risk.
We'll examine the research, identify a safe course of action, and you'll get two delicious recipes that contain a compound your body can safely convert into Vitamin A.
Vitamin A And Fracture Risk
Vitamin A includes several related compounds, such as retinol and retinyl esters, also called preformed vitamin A. The most commonly found forms of preformed vitamin A in supplements are retinyl acetate and retinyl palmitate.
Studies have compared Vitamin A intake levels to fracture risk. One extensive meta-analysis looked at data from 319,077 participants over the age of 20.1
They found that the relationship between Vitamin A and fracture risk can be charted in a U shape. With a low intake level of Vitamin A, fracture risk is comparatively high. As intake rises, fracture risk lowers. However, if Vitamin A intake is increased too much, fracture risk starts to grow again.1
There's a middle-range supplementation that helps reduce fracture risk. That range is about 2,000-3,000 IU per day. In the Rancho Bernardo study, this intake was associated with the highest bone mineral densities. Participants in that study who took more or less Vitamin A than the recommended amount had lower bone density.2
Multiple studies have found that when participants got insufficient Vitamin A, they had a higher fracture risk. They also found that too much Vitamin A increased fracture risk. Risk was lowest when participants took 2000-3000 IU per day.
Beta-Carotene And Bone Health
Beta-carotene is a provitamin A carotenoid. The label “provitamin A” indicates that the body can convert it into Vitamin A. But unlike complete Vitamin A, increasing the beta-carotene intake past a certain level hasn't been shown to harm bones.
In fact, studies on beta-carotene have shown that higher intakes provide additional bone benefits. One meta-analysis study examining the effects of beta-carotene on the risk of fracture concluded with the following summation:
“The present meta-analysis suggests that β-carotene intake was inversely associated with fracture risk, which was consistently observed for case-control and cohort studies. Randomized controlled trials are warranted to confirm this relationship.”3
This means that you can take beta-carotene to ensure your body has access to all the Vitamin A it needs, without increasing your fracture risk. The Save Institute recommends 5000 IU (3mg) of beta-carotene daily.
Beta-carotene is a provitamin A carotenoid. Your body can convert it into Vitamin A. Studies have found that beta-carotene reduces fracture risk. And unlike Vitamin A, it doesn't start increasing fracture risk past a certain intake level. Get 5000 IU (3mg) of beta-carotene per day.
Food Sources Of Beta-Carotene
You can get beta-carotene from supplements and from a variety of foods. And there is plenty of reason beyond bone health to do so. Studies have linked beta-carotene with a reduced risk of lung cancer, metabolic disease, and even sunburn.4,5
Like all carotenoids, beta-carotene is an antioxidant. So it provides protection from damaging free radicals, helping to prevent chronic illnesses. There are many common foods that are rich in beta-carotene. In fact, the word carotene comes from one of them: carrots!
Enjoy these rich sources of beta-carotene:
- Chinese cabbage
- Dandelion leaves
- Sweet potatoes*
In addition to reducing fracture risk, beta-carotene has been shown to reduce the risk of lung cancer, metabolic disease, and sunburn. See the list above for excellent food sources of beta-carotene.
Beta-Carotene Rich Recipes
To give you a head start on increasing your beta-carotene intake, here are two delicious recipes that feature foods from the list above:
(The foods that contain beta-carotene are pumpkin, apricots, and turmeric.)
- 1 ½ cup rolled oats
- 1 ½ ripe banana, mashed
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- ¼ cup apple sauce, unsweetened
- ¼ cup dried apricots, chopped small
- ¼ teaspoon stevia powder (adjust to taste)
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon whey protein powder
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon or nutmeg
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients until well combined.
- Drop one heaping tablespoon of the mixture onto a baking sheet and press down slightly.
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
(The foods that contain beta-carotene are sweet potatoes, spinach, and cherries).
- 1 cup almond flour
- ⅓ cup sweet potato, cooked and mashed
- 2 cups packed spinach, raw
- ½ cup plain unsweetened yogurt
- ¼ cup cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3 teaspoons stevia powder (adjust to taste)
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons dried cherries
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a muffin pan with muffin liners.
- Place the sweet potatoes and yogurt in a blender and blend until mixture is smooth.
- Add the spinach to blender and blend again.
- Add the rest of the ingredients to the mixture and blend, then pulse until well combined.
- Spoon batter into muffin tins, filling each one only ¾ of the way.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until fork inserted in the middle comes out clean.
What This Means To You
Your body has powerful natural processes that work together to keep you healthy and whole. When you provide your body with all the building blocks it needs, like beta-carotene, you can flourish– and your bones can stay strong.
If you’d like to include bone-healthy nutrients into your diet, check out Bone Appétit. Bone Appétit is the Save Institute's cookbook and meal planner. It's brimming with colorful vegetables that provide carotenoids like beta-carotene.
As you learn the distinctions between often-confused compounds like Vitamin A and beta-carotene, you gain the ability to make better-informed choices about your diet, your health, and your life. So keep learning!
Could you please advise on how to safely stop using Prolia injections which I’ve had for 2 years? I don’t think at age 80 a regimen of bone building is good idea. I accepted Prolia because bones in lumbar spine fractured, but now another bone same area fractured in spite of prolia, so I want to stop using it. Doctors advise this will cause more fractures. Any good suggestions, please? I have not taken calcium supplements.
Thanks Vivienne for all your interesting and informative articles. i wonder what you think of Solgar “ultimate Bone Support ” for osteoporosis. It contains Advanced Calcium Complex with Vits D3 and K2 Zinc and Boron.
looking forward to hearing from you.
My GlucoBalance (Biotics Research multi-Vitamins), say to take 6 pills per day and I’ll get 1500mcg. RAE per day of vitamin A. How many IUs is this? Most of us don’t know how to translate IUs into mcg so I’m totally confused. My chiropractor also muscle tested me and she said I only need 2 of those GlucoBalance per day according to my body response. So actually this is more like 2 questions in a way, as I’ve also wondered how good is muscle testing anyway?
Very interesting article…..thank you
Besides all you suggest, would taking grass-fed Collagen type 1 and type 3 help with bone building even though I don’t eat meat?
Hi Vivian.Thanks for this vital information. I new this.I don’t take multiple vitamins for that reason.I take Vitamin D3 and B-complex. I don’t take calcium because of chalky build up. I take chewable with K2.I eat most vegetables with Vitamin A.Exercise is the best for osteoporosis.. Weight lifting.. Thanks Again Vivian
Thanks again for a timely information. Due to a problem with my eye (epiretinal membrane) I tried to add vitamin A preformed 3000 UI per day and that proved too much as I had early signs of Vitamin A toxicity within 2 months. I intended to take just 1000 UI but I made an error in calculation.
The bottle of vitamin A capsules should have warned about the risks as each capsule contains the upper level of vitamin A preformed as warned by Health Canada.
This has been a wake up call as suffering from osteoporosis and having had a fracture 13 years ago, it could have been dangerous.
Thanks Vivienne for all your information,it
It has certainly helped me.
Great information. Thanks Vivian!
Your list of foods that are rich sources of beta-carotene includes Turmeric. Could you check that? I think the amount of beta-carotene, or other carotenoids, in turmeric is minimal if any. Turmeric does have anti-oxidant properties, but they are not primarily from carotenoids.
Very interesting information, Vivian. Not surprised that my doctor never said anything to me about this. Thank you!
One, If you eat the foods with beta carotene and take a multi vit with it in is there a problem of going over the 5000 a day?
Two, if your multi has the retinyl palmitate but more than 2000-3000 giving you too much would taking it every other day be a solution, or is it necessary to get it everyday?
Half of the population have a genetic variant that inhibits the body’s ability to convert beta-carotene to vitamin A. We need retinol in our diets. I just added cod liver oil to my supplements to provide me with the necessary retinol.