Thursday August 19, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Vitamin A

On this Day:

In 1947, J Arens & D van Dorpen synthesized vitamin A. However, let’s have a good look at the long history of Vitamin A.

The discovery of vitamin A may have stemmed from research dating back to 1816, when physiologist François Magendie observed that dogs deprived of nutrition developed corneal ulcers and had a high mortality rate. In 1912, Frederick Gowland Hopkins demonstrated that unknown accessory factors found in milk, other than carbohydrates, proteins, and fats were necessary for growth in rats. Hopkins received a Nobel Prize for this discovery in 1929. By 1913, one of these substances was independently discovered by Elmer McCollum and Marguerite Davis at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and Lafayette Mendel and Thomas Burr Osborne at Yale University, who studied the role of fats in the diet. McCollum and Davis ultimately received credit because they submitted their paper three weeks before Mendel and Osborne. Both papers appeared in the same issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry in 1913. The “accessory factors” were termed “fat soluble” in 1918 and later “vitamin A” in 1920. In 1919, Harry Steenbock (University of Wisconsin–Madison) proposed a relationship between yellow plant pigments (beta-carotene) and vitamin A. In 1931, Swiss chemist Paul Karrer described the chemical structure of vitamin A. Vitamin A was first synthesized in 1947 by two Dutch chemists, David Adriaan van Dorp and Jozef Ferdinand Arens.

During World War II, German bombers would attack at night to evade British defenses. In order to keep the 1939 invention of a new on-board Airborne Intercept Radar system secret from German bombers, the British Ministry of Information told newspapers that the nighttime defensive success of Royal Air Force pilots was due to a high dietary intake of carrots rich in vitamin A, propagating the myth that carrots enable people to see better in the dark.
Vitamin A is a group of unsaturated nutritional organic compounds that includes retinol, retinal, and several provitamin A carotenoids (most notably beta-carotene). Vitamin A has multiple functions: it is important for growth and development, for the maintenance of the immune system, and for good vision. Vitamin A is needed by the retina of the eye in the form of retinal, which combines with protein opsin to form rhodopsin, the light-absorbing molecule necessary for both low-light (scotopic vision) and color vision.

Vitamin A deficiency is estimated to affect approximately one third of children under the age of five around the world. It is estimated to claim the lives of 670,000 children under five annually. Between 250,000 and 500,000 children in developing countries become blind each year owing to vitamin A deficiency, with the highest prevalence in Africa and southeast Asia. Vitamin A deficiency is “the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness”, according to UNICEF. It also increases the risk of death from common childhood conditions such as diarrhea. UNICEF regards addressing vitamin A deficiency as critical to reducing child mortality, the fourth of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals.

Vitamin A deficiency can occur as either a primary or a secondary deficiency. A primary vitamin A deficiency occurs among children and adults who do not consume an adequate intake of provitamin A carotenoids from fruits and vegetables or preformed vitamin A from animal and dairy products. Early weaning from breastmilk can also increase the risk of vitamin A deficiency.

Secondary vitamin A deficiency is associated with chronic malabsorption of lipids, impaired bile production and release, and chronic exposure to oxidants, such as cigarette smoke, and chronic alcoholism. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and depends on micellar solubilization for dispersion into the small intestine, which results in poor use of vitamin A from low-fat diets. Zinc deficiency can also impair absorption, transport, and metabolism of vitamin A because it is essential for the synthesis of the vitamin A transport proteins and as the cofactor in conversion of retinol to retinal. In malnourished populations, common low intakes of vitamin A and zinc increase the severity of vitamin A deficiency and lead to physiological signs and symptoms of deficiency. A study in Burkina Faso showed major reduction of malaria morbidity by use of combined vitamin A and zinc supplementation in young children.

Due to the unique function of retinal as a visual chromophore, one of the earliest and specific manifestations of vitamin A deficiency is impaired vision, particularly in reduced light – night blindness. Persistent deficiency gives rise to a series of changes, the most devastating of which occur in the eyes. Some other ocular changes are referred to as xerophthalmia. First there is dryness of the conjunctiva (xerosis) as the normal lacrimal and mucus-secreting epithelium is replaced by a keratinized epithelium. This is followed by the build-up of keratin debris in small opaque plaques (Bitot’s spots) and, eventually, erosion of the roughened corneal surface with softening and destruction of the cornea (keratomalacia) and leading to total blindness. Other changes include impaired immunity (increased risk of ear infections, urinary tract infections, meningococcal disease), hyperkeratosis (white lumps at hair follicles), keratosis pilaris and squamous metaplasia of the epithelium lining the upper respiratory passages and urinary bladder to a keratinized epithelium. In relation to dentistry, a deficiency in vitamin A may lead to enamel hypoplasia.

Adequate supply, but not excess vitamin A, is especially important for pregnant and breastfeeding women for normal fetal development and in breastmilk. Deficiencies cannot be compensated by postnatal supplementation. Excess vitamin A, which is most common with high-dose vitamin supplements, can cause birth defects and therefore should not exceed recommended daily values.

Vitamin A metabolic inhibition as a result of alcohol consumption during pregnancy is one proposed mechanism for fetal alcohol syndrome, and is characterized by teratogenicity resembling maternal vitamin A deficiency or reduced retinoic acid synthesis during embryogenesis (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

What is Canada’s favorite vitamin?  Eh..

Second, a Song:

Vitamin A is an artist from Thailand who has recorded a video to his song “Jumbo Mambo”.  Unfortunately, I can find very little information about either him or the song.  However, here is his video.  I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” – Jonathan Swift

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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