Periconceptional vitamin A use: how much is teratogenic?

Reprod Toxicol. 1998 Jan-Feb;12(1):75-88. doi: 10.1016/s0890-6238(97)00102-0.


The objective of the review is to determine whether preformed vitamin A (retinol and retinyl esters) is teratogenic at dosages commonly used by women living in industrialized countries. Published human and animal data and research developed by the authors are reviewed. It is well known that vitamin A is essential for normal reproduction and development. Although doses of 10,000 IU/d or less of preformed vitamin A (retinyl esters and retinol) are considered safe, doses > 10,000 IU/d as supplements have been reported to cause malformations in a single epidemiologic study. Nonhuman primate data show no teratogenicity at doses of 30,000 IU/d. Daily periconceptional exposures greater than 25,000 IU/d of preformed vitamin A have not been sufficiently studied to establish specific risk. Because no study reports adverse effects of 10,000 IU/d preformed vitamin A supplements and this dose is more than the Recommended Dietary Allowance for pregnant women (2670 IU or 800 RE/d), we recommend that women living in industrialized countries or who otherwise have nutritionally adequate diets may not need to ingest more than the Recommended Dietary Allowance of preformed vitamin A as supplements. If periconceptional vitamin A exposures to levels up to 30,000 IU/d (9,000 micrograms RE/d) do occur unintentionally, multiple animal studies do support only very low risk. Human epidemiologic studies do not establish at what level vitamin A becomes teratogenic; however, pharmacokinetic data presented in this paper indicate that blood levels of retinoids from women taking 30,000 IU/d of preformed vitamin A are not greater than retinoid blood levels in pregnant women during the first trimester who delivered healthy babies. Interestingly, neither teratogenicity nor vitamin A toxicity has been observed in multiple species exposed to high doses of beta-carotene.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Drug-Induced / etiology*
  • Animals
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Fertilization
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Teratogens / toxicity*
  • Time Factors
  • Vitamin A / adverse effects*


  • Teratogens
  • Vitamin A