Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness, and is critical to achieving Millennium Development Goal 4 to reduce child mortality. About 250,000 to 500,000 malnourished children in the developing world go blind each year from a deficiency of vitamin A, around half of whom die within a year of becoming blind. The United Nations Special Session on Children in 2002 set a goal of the elimination of VAD by 2010. Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) or hypovitaminosis A is a lack of vitamin A in blood and tissues. It is common in poorer countries, especially among children and women of reproductive age, but rarely is seen in more developed countries. Nyctalopia (night blindness) is one of the first signs of VAD. Xerophthalmia, keratomalacia, and complete blindness can also occur since vitamin A has a major role in phototransduction.The three forms of vitamin A include retinols, beta-carotenes, and carotenoids.
The prevalence of night blindness due to vitamin A deficiency is also high among pregnant women in many developing countries. VAD also contributes to maternal mortality and other poor outcomes in pregnancy and lactation.
VAD also diminishes the ability to fight infections. In countries where children are not immunized, infectious diseases such as measles have higher fatality rates.As elucidated by Alfred Sommer, even mild, subclinical deficiency can also be a problem, as it may increase children’s risk of developing respiratory and diarrheal infections, decrease growth rate, slow bone development, and decrease likelihood of survival from serious illness.
VAD is estimated to affect about 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. Around 250,000–500,000 children in developing countries become blind each year owing to VAD, with the highest prevalence in Southeast Asia and Africa. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), VAD is under control in the United States, but in developing countries, VAD is a significant concern. Globally, 65% of all children aged 6 to 59 months received two doses of vitamin A in 2013, fully protecting them against VAD (80% in the least developed countries).
Night blindness is the difficulty for the eyes to adjust to dim light. Affected individuals are unable to distinguish images in low levels of illumination. People with night blindness have poor vision in the darkness, but see normally when adequate light is present.
VAD affects vision by inhibiting the production of rhodopsin, the eye pigment responsible for sensing low-light situations. Rhodopsin is found in the retina and is composed of retinal (an active form of vitamin A) and opsin (a protein). Because the body cannot create retinal in sufficient amounts, a diet low in vitamin A leads to a decreased amount of rhodopsin in the eye, as the retinal is inadequate to bind with opsin.
Night blindness caused by VAD has been associated with the loss of goblet cells in the conjunctiva, a membrane covering the outer surface of the eye. Goblet cells are responsible for secretion of mucus, and their absence results in xerophthalmia, a condition where the eyes fail to produce tears. Dead epithelial and microbial cells accumulate on the conjunctiva and form debris that can lead to infection and possibly blindness.
Decreasing night blindness requires the improvement of vitamin A status in at-risk populations. Supplements and fortification of food have been shown to be effective interventions. Supplement treatment for night blindness includes massive doses of vitamin A (200,000 IU) in the form of retinyl palmitate to be taken by mouth, which is administered two to four times a year.Intramuscular injections are poorly absorbed and are ineffective in delivering sufficient bioavailable vitamin A. Fortification of food with vitamin A is costly, but can be done in wheat, sugar, and milk. Households may circumvent expensive fortified food by altering dietary habits. Consumption of yellow-orange fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids, specifically beta-carotene, provides provitamin A precursors that can prevent VAD-related night blindness. However, the conversion of carotene to retinol varies from person to person and bioavailability of carotene in food varies
To read the entire collection of this information and it’s footnotes, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitamin_A_deficiency
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