Vitamin A, also called retinol, is a fat-soluble vitamin that is readily destroyed upon exposure to heat, light, or air. The vitamin has a direct role in vision and is a component of a pigment present in the retina of the eye. It is essential for the proper functioning of most body organs and also affects the functioning of the immune system.
Vitamin A deficiency results in various disorders that most commonly involve the eye and the epithelial tissues--the skin and the mucous membranes lining the internal body surfaces. An early symptom of vitamin A deficiency is the development of night blindness, and continued deficiency eventually results in loss of sight. If deficiency is prolonged, the skin may become dry and rough. Vitamin A deficiency may also result in defective bone and teeth formation.
Excessive intake of vitamin A causes a toxic condition. The symptoms may include nausea, coarsening and loss of hair, drying and scaling of the skin, bone pain, fatigue, and drowsiness. There may also be blurred vision and headache in adults, and growth failure, enlargement of the liver, and nervous irritability in children.
Vitamins were originally placed in categories based on their function in the body and were given letter names. Later, as their chemical structures were revealed, they were also given chemical names. Today, both naming conventions are used.