Vitamin A in pregnancy: requirements and safety limits

Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 May;71(5 Suppl):1325S-33S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/71.5.1325s.


Most of the functions of vitamin A are mediated through the binding of retinoic acid to specific nuclear receptors that regulate genomic expression. Recent experimental work in transgenic mice showed clearly that normal embryonic development depends on the correct spatial and temporal expression of the receptors in the differentiating cells and on the binding of specific forms of retinoic acid. This implies that the parent compound, vitamin A, is available in adequate forms and quantities. Excessive dietary intake of vitamin A has been associated with teratogenicity in humans in <20 reported cases over 30 y. However, caution must be exercised to avoid unnecessary supplementation of women of childbearing age. Hypovitaminosis A affects millions of women and children worldwide. The main consequence of a poor vitamin A supply during pregnancy is a low vitamin A status at birth and in the next few months. Vitamin A deficiency is strongly associated with depressed immune function and higher morbidity and mortality due to infectious diseases such as diarrhea, measles, and respiratory infections. Vitamin A deficiency is often associated with an increased mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1. The initiation of vitamin A supplementation should be carefully examined in each case according to the risk-to-benefit ratio. The final decision should take into account the estimated vitamin A status of the woman, the availability of vitamin A-rich foods in her diet, and whether supplementation can be supervised.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development* / drug effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lactation / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Pregnancy / metabolism*
  • Vitamin A / administration & dosage*
  • Vitamin A / adverse effects
  • Vitamin A / metabolism*


  • Vitamin A