Bacteria: Where would we be without them?


Prokaryotic organisms such as single celled bacteria, are the simplest of all life forms. They contain very little biological material and even their DNA floats freely within a bacterial cell. This is where the name prokaryote comes from as the name implies “before the nucleus”, ie these cells existed before organisms had evolved to organise their DNA within a nucleus. The roles of prokaryotes in the fabrication of our very existence and the dependence the ecosystem has on them is often under appreciated. Very little thought or respect is given to these microscopic organisms who remain elusive to the naked eye but yet have laid the basis for life on this planet. Bacteria are often viewed upon as infectious entities that are bad for us. But bacteria also play a huge role in the maintenance of the biosphere and the promotion of our good health as well as being a causal factor for ill health. As insignificant as they seem their significance to life as we know it is immense.


Here’s some E.coli we studied with an electron microscope in one of our lab experiments…

Veterans of the earth

We homosapiens like to consider ourselves the most dominant species on the planet and to some extent we are, we have definitely laid our footprint down and made our presence universal. We have the ability to adapt to our environment and we have done that efficiently over the span our evolutionary timescale. But we have only been on this planet for a fraction of the time bacteria has and its thanks to their existence we even exist. Bacteria can adapt to their environment too but on a much more efficient scale. Not only can they adapt thriving in anything from extreme icy cold to hot spring temperatures to extreme PH levels in acidic habitats, environments humans could only imagine living in. But when we humans have exhausted our resources or when our creations become tools of our demise, bacteria will continue to undoubtedly reign.



The scientific consensus is that the earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago and based on evidence this is what science agrees on(1). The earliest evidence suggests life first existed as chemoautrophs, basic single celled anaerobic organisms, these cells were the first prokaryotic bacteria and they dominated the planet in an atmosphere absent of oxygen around 3.8 billion years ago(2). But their dominance was short lived as around 3 billion years ago evolution took place where a new type of prokaryotic cell called cyanobacteria started to photosynthesise(3).

These new pioneer species laid the foundations for life on this earth as we know it and it was the start of a chain of ecological succession. This was a revolution in the world of prokaryotes. Using only water, carbon dioxide and energy from the sunlight they were able to release small amounts of oxygen into the atmosphere as a waste product of photosynthesis. Oxygen killed many anaerobic organisms on contact and cyanobacteria became the dominant prokaryote species.



From fossils of bacterial mats, otherwise known as stromatolites, we know that initially the oxygen was bound to dissolved iron ions and other reducing substances that could react with oxygen. These ions precipitated as iron oxide (shown as rust) and prevented the accumulation of free oxygen. It wasn’t until 2.5 billion years ago precipitation exhausted the dissolved iron which led to the oceans and atmosphere becoming saturated with oxygen(4). This was the beginning of what scientists called the great oxidation event (GOE). The increase in oxygen was toxic to many anaerobic bacterial and protist species, as it still is to many forms today. However this also led to adaptation by some cells in which they evolved to harness the oxygen to render it harmless to them by using a similar system to photosynthesis called cellular respiration or aerobic respiration. This produced more energy for the cell thus also allowing for bigger more complex life(5). We owe bacteria our gratitude for providing us with a stable oxygen steady state eco-system.


Plant life

Photosynthetic prokaryotes are also responsible for the cause of our plant life. Evidence suggests chloroplasts are descendants of cyanobacteria that some time in the past entered into a symbiotic mutualistic relationship with a primitive plant like organism, becoming a part of it through endosymbiosis(6). This gives entry to the perfect relationship between oxygen releasers and oxygen consumers. Humans breathe in oxygen and release carbon dioxide where as these oxygen givers recycled carbon dioxide to make usable oxygen. Now its easier to see the significance of our dependence on them. Without oxygen we would die, without plant life we would die.


Nitrogen fixation

Another life giving aspect that bacteria has provided us with is nitrogen. The role of nitrogen in the biosphere is crucial to all living things. Nitrogen is important for the synthesis of proteins, nucleic acids and other fundamental components associated with growth. Nitrogen is all around us, 78% of the air we breathe is in fact nitrogen, however its in the unusable form of N2, the triple bond between the two atoms makes it almost inert. Therefore nitrogen needs to be fixed and converted to a usable form NH4 (ammonium) or NO3 (nitrate) ions. Free-living cyanobacteria were initially responsible for biological nitrogen fixation in soils but now prokaryotic bacteria have also formed a symbiotic relationship with legumes in which the nitrogen-fixing bacteria called Rhizobium, subside in the root nodules of the legumes, fixing nitrogen for them there. Biological nitrogen fixation is performed exclusively by prokaryotes and is yet another positive and vital impact they have on our existence and the biosphere(7).


Intestinal flora

Its easy to forget that we are covered by mostly harmless bacteria inside and out (roughly 100 trillion of them) and all the cells in our body are out numbered by them. But a type of bacteria that is beneficial to us, one that we have formed a type of mutualistic symbiosis with is the microbial flora in our guts. There is between 500-1000 bacterial species in the human gut flora. These anaerobic prokaryotic bacteria help us breakdown sugars and lipids increasing the bio-availability of nutrients(8). The metabolic substrates they leave behind are also beneficial to us, they give us vitamins such as vitamin B12, K and short chain fatty acids. Our friendly bacteria also play an important role in acting as a barrier to harmful pathogenic organisms(9).



The negative impacts bacteria has on humans we all know too well. Anything from infection to disease is due to bacteria, some of which we know can be fatal. E.coli, Salmonella, Tetanus and Staphylococcus are just a few deadly examples of how Bacteria can impact us negatively by invading our bodies, destroying our cells and breaking down our immune system.


Prokaryotes have great genetic diversity and this has led to them being beneficial to us and our environment as well as being the cause of many human deaths. They truly are the dominant species and will most likely continue to be so for many years beyond our existence. They laid the foundations for us to live and now maintain the structure of that biosphere. They hold the potential to eradicate us and have the capability of thriving in conditions we couldn’t dream of surviving in. In essence they are our friend and foe. Most would love to live without them but we certainly couldn’t.


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Muscle Building: How it’s done

Muscle growth key points

  • Be aware of how many calories your consuming
  • Create a 300-600 calorie surplus through diet (approx 20cals/lb body weight)
  • Eat every 2-4hours
  • Daily protein intake should be at least 2g/kg of body weight (eg 90kg = 180g protein a day)
  • Pre/post workout and breakfast are important opportunities to build muscle so make these meals >700cals
  • Women and men should eat around 400-700 calories in each meal which should  include a complete protein with a decent amount of complex carbohydrate
  • Use a programme that reflects you natural genetic ability
  • Train progressively heavier each week
  • Sleep for at least 8 hours each night, you grow when you are not training so learn to relax outside of the gym
  • Water! being well hydrated means hydrated cells = hydrated muscles = more muscle growth

Proper nutrition + Correct training principles + Adequate rest = Muscle growth

For muscle-building to occur certain physical stresses and dietary requirements needs to be adhered to. Our bodies aren’t really designed to be as muscular as some men are or want to be and to maintain that kind of physique it requires a lot of discipline from the dietary side and plenty of hard work from the physical side on a consistent and regular basis to continue to maintain or build that muscle. The correct blend of nutrients alongside the correct training for your genetic build, coupled with enough R&R, will equate to gains in muscle mass as far as your genetics will allow.

Muscle fuel

First of all, lets start with the diet! Calorie intake for muscular hypertrophy is kind of a reversed fat loss diet. For fat loss, you consume fewer calories than what you expend each day to lose fat. For muscle to grow, however, there needs to be a calorie surplus, more calories than you expend daily. These extra calories are what provides your body with the energy to grow new lean muscle tissue. Make no mistake, if you aren’t consuming enough calories, you won’t grow, plain and simple. Even if you are consuming enough calories you will at some point need to increase them to keep new gains coming. I kid you not when I say building serious muscle naturally can require some serious eating. For me, 4000 calories a day is standard if I’m sitting at around 205lbs in total body weight. On the other hand, more calories doesn’t necessarily mean more muscle, only unnecessary fat gain. With possibly the exception of a typical hard gainer, a true “ectomorph”, anything over around 400-500 calories above what it takes to maintain your weight will likely pose a risk of new unwanted fat gain.

Uh-oh, so what does this mean…calorie counting? what!? seriously?

If you want to be accurate and want to minimise fat gain, whilst maximising muscle gain, I think it’s a necessity unfortunately. As a general rule, for fat gain susceptible “endomorphs”, a modest 300 calorie surplus is all that is needed to provide enough calories to grow on, while an ectomorph may need a 600 calorie surplus (or more) while the mesomorph could gorge on a 600 calorie surplus and will probably still get crazy shredded gains (bastards). So if your currently eating 2600 calories and have been for a couple weeks and you haven’t even gained half a pound, then its safe to say you need more calories. Therefore, increase your calories by roughly 300 (ie, 2 protein shakes and a banana or a handful of nuts and an apple or a peanut butter sandwich) until you can gain around 1-2lb in 2 weeks. Maintain this caloric intake until you no longer gain 1lb every 2 weeks. This is the trial and error method. Another simple way to eat for muscle gains is to simply start by eating 18 calories per lb of body weight and adjust from there depending on whether or not you’re gaining or losing weight each week.

Drip fed protein

When you lift heavy weights you break the muscle down and cause micro trauma, tiny tears in the fibers that when combined with enough sleep, calories and protein equates to new thicker stronger muscle fibers. To save you an essay eat 2g of protein per kg of body weight throughout the whole day, you weigh 90kg = 180g protein. Regular eating patterns should be incorporated to maximise protein synthesis, eating every 3 hours works well for me and that feeding time interval has some good research behind it too, 30-40g of protein for women and men is more than enough per meal.

Carbs = bigger fuller muscles

Since we know carbs draw around 2.5 g of water in with every gram of carbohydrate you eat it becomes very easy to gain weight and create a more muscle-building environment when your carb intake is high. I personally choose to have most of my carbs in the meals after training, around a good chunk for breakfast. Having most of your carbs post workout and for breakfast is a better use of carbs as your muscles will be more sensitive to the effects of insulin meaning you can be sure your muscles will soak the carbs instead of your fat. It should go without saying that carb sources throughout the day in any meals (with the exception of post workout nutrition) should be high in fibre and as unprocessed as possible carbs of a slow release nature. A good rule of thumb when trying to gain muscle is to start at around 1.5g-2g of carbs per lb of bodyweight. For example If weighed 190lb I will go for around 380g of carbs in a day, broken up. Generally, try to get the bulk of your carbs in at breakfast, pre workout, post workout and post post workout.

Pre/Post workout

Pre and post workout are arguably the most crucial times to feed your muscles with nutrients.This really is the make or break time where nutrition really matters. Think of it like this, going to the gym and training without having a post workout shake is like giving a builder the blue-prints to build a house without providing him any raw materials. The tools are there, but without bricks, cements and materials, there is nothing to build with. You can’t build a house out of air just like you can’t build muscle out of air. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF POSTWORKOUT NUTRITION.

Men and women really want between 20-40g of protein with around 60-120g of refined, high glycemic, sugary carbs (glucose/dextrose/maltodextrin) fairly soon after your last set or straight before training. For hard-gainers I would shoot for the higher end regardless of body weight.

Genetic wall

After many years of hard lifting and big eating your bound to hit what I call the genetic wall. Everyone has genetic limitations but if you are aware of your body type and can and eat in a way that reflects your body type then you can to an extent learn to override these limitations to make gains in strength and size with time.

There are 3 basic body types, these 3 body types are referred to as somatotypes and they are Endomorphs, Ectomorphs and Mesomorphs. Each somatotype has its own physiological differences that define their natural body composition…

Endomorphs tend to be stocky with a tendency for fat gain, they usually have tree trunk legs big calves and can build muscle at an easy rate, but again their downfall being their susceptibility to fat gain

Ectomorphs tend to be skinny and sometimes lanky, they usually have a thin skeletal frame, skinny wrist and generally a thin stature, they tend to be lean but skinny and find it hard putting on weight (me!)

Mesomorphs  have the best of both worlds, great genetics, naturally lean and builds muscle easily, very athletic (so jealous)

Although somatotypes are really a truncated explanation for the genetic differences between people. It can be helpful to guide you towards a training and eating regime that fits your frame.

Train like a pro bodybuilder to look like a pro builder… No!

First of all I just want to dispel something, I’d imagine there maybe some guys reading this that would like to get as big and as freakishly muscular as Ronnie Coleman or Jay Cutler? Or some guys just want guns like Arnie? Or maybe you’d like to attain a more aesthetic look like that of Serge Nubret with his pleasingly muscular yet athletic look similar to most bodybuilders in the golden age?

Well, I definitely had the same wishes at one point in my life. I remember reading these magazines in my young teen years and thinking if I train like these guys and take the supplements they recommend maybe I could get like them. If you are one of them guys and your heart is set on growing until your 240lbs+ and 6% body fat you’re probably aiming a little high unless you know you have great genetics. Generally speaking, for an “average” drug-free person, that kind of build and size is not attainable. It’s a pipe dream that you’ll soon realise is limited by your natural ability. If you want arms like Arnie’s or you want to be as wide a Heath, stop dreaming it’s probably not going to happen. 

For most people, with typical jobs, with typical social lives and typical genetics, following the routine of a pro bodybuilder will most likely result in over-training. Take from them their training concepts, philosophies and adapt it to suit your own build and lifestyle by decreasing either the volume or frequency.

Now you’re aware of what’s realistic and you have a good grasp on reality, you’re now ready to achieve a decent amount of muscle in proportion to your frame and you’re ready to get the most out of your body and reach your genetic potential. Building a great physique naturally if tough and requires consistency and hard work, but the results are far more satisfying.


You can’t gain much more than a lb of sold muscle a month, and this probably a generous estimation. Muscle building can be a painstakingly slow process especially for those who are highly trained. Realistically I look to build 1lb of lean muscle per month if muscle-building is my goal. Fortunately, if you are relatively new to training or you have had over 6 months off training or have come off from a long dieting stint, it’s actually possible to build muscle at a much faster rate while burning off body fat at the same time.The only exception may be if you are bulking up straight after a cut and you are carb depleted or you are new to training altogether whereby it is possible to get quick noobie gains. Those are the only exceptions when it might be seen as acceptable to gain more than 4lbs a month. But remember, most of this may just be mainly be muscle water weight from an increase in carbohydrate intake. Even after that though, once your glycogen levels fill up you are looking for 0.5-1lbs of lean muscle a month couple with a lb or two of water weight. Sounds pretty disappointing right? It’s not. Over a year of consistent training this can accumulate to impressive gains. Fast forward a year later and you have packed on 15lbs of weight most of which is lean tissue. You can reassure yourself you have earned it these gains. Naturally built muscle with consistency and hard work gives you a sense of satisfaction and achievement. Hold your head up high and be sure that your muscle’s won’t deflate like a balloon and do not require anything other than what you did to build it for it to be maintained.

To summarise again:

Muscle growth key points

  • Be aware of how many calories your consuming
  • Create a 300-600 calorie surplus through diet (approx 20cals/lb body weight)
  • Eat every 2-4hours
  • Daily protein intake should be at least 2g/kg of body weight (eg 90kg = 180g protein a day)
  • Pre/post workout and breakfast are important opportunities to build muscle so make these meals >700cals
  • Women and men should eat around 400-700 calories in each meal which should  include a complete protein with a decent amount of complex carbohydrate
  • Use a programme that reflects you natural genetic ability
  • Train progressively heavier each week
  • Sleep for at least 8 hours each night, you grow when you are not training so learn to relax outside of the gym
  • Water! being well hydrated means hydrated cells = hydrated muscles = more muscle growth

I hope this information helps and isn’t too overwhelming. Hopefully you can apply these tips and start making some gains! 

Fat loss: How it’s done

belly-2354_1920 (1)
loss key points

  • Calorie control and awareness of your daily calorie consumption
  • Create a 300-500 calorie deficit with diet and exercise
  • Consume foods that are nutrient rich
  • Eat every 2 – 4 hours
  • Include high quality complete proteins in every meal
  • Eat only low glycemic high fibre wholesome carbohydrates or
    keep carbohydrate intake low
  • Do not exclude essential fats they are vital to your health and for metabolism
  • Drink between 30-40ml/kg of water each day ie; 80kg x 30ml = at least 2400ml

Fat loss is the most sought after goal in the world of fitness and for a good reason too. Generally speaking, low body fat levels are a reflection of good health and this has also been the case historically too. This notion holds true today more than ever, especially when contrasted against an obesity epidemic.

Calorie control
Fat loss is something that is dictated by energy input and energy output. You need to create a calorie deficit through diet and exercise to lose body fat. Once a calorie deficit has been established your body will be forced to use any unwanted fat to meet the metabolic demands of the body. If you consume more calories than you burn off through exercise, daily activities and your body’s natural metabolic and physiological processes on a daily basis, your body stores the unneeded calories as fat. Consume less calories than you burn off, however, and you lose fat.

Every one has a certain amount of calories they will need to eat to maintain their weight. For me (at time of writing) it’s around 2900 calories. Depending on whether you eat above or under what it takes to maintain your weight is what dictates whether you burn fat or store it.

You can use any online calculator to work out your maintenance caloric intake;

My fitness pal is also a very useful app which tracks your calorie intake and sets caloric targets based on your goals;

For most people 1-2lbs of fat loss per week is a realistic and ideal target. Although, you can expect to lose more weight than that each week the heavier you are, but it’s likely to be mainly water weight. Aiming for an initial daily calorie deficit of 500 calories is ideal since there are 3500 calories in a lb of fat. A daily deficit of 500 calories would therefore result in a loss of around a 1lb of fat per week.

A quality calorie
Now we’ve determined how to lose body fat through calorie control we need to make sure the quality of calorie complements your goals. Just because you have a calorie allowance, it’s not wise to spend all day eating your favourite junk foods. Although it’s true, a calorie deficit is a calorie deficit, your satiety, energy and health won’t be favoured by a diet high in refined and processed foods and low in micronutrients and fibre, which can inadvertently affect your fat loss goals.

Meal frequency
I personally am a firm believer and practitioner of frequent feeding. It does have small but positive effect on your metabolism, but the main reason for me is that by eating small meals every 3 hours it keeps my gut somewhat flatter than does eating 3 big meals a day, which seems to distend my stomach a bit more. Also whether you’re burning fat or building muscle, and particularly for performance and health, I think its very important to maintain a regular and steady intake of energy and micronutrients. 

Here I will briefly outline the importance of the types of carbohydrates, fats and proteins;

Protein – The thermic effect of protein is particularly high with approximately 25% of the calories consumed from it being burned up in the digestion process. In other words if you eat 200 calories of protein around 50 calories is burned just while your body tries to break it down and digest it. That means you burn some calories eating protein. The effect is seen in some other hard to digest low calorie foods too. Whether you’re slimming down or bulking up you should aim to eat lean low saturated fat sources of protein with every meal. Being someone who follows an almost exclusively plant based diet, my top 3 favourites are:

  • Nato (fermented tofu)
  • Vegan Quorn
  • Scallops


Carbohydrates – Carbs are a double edged sword because they can be stored as fat much more readily depending on amount consumed, time of consumption and source. The prevalence of type 2 diabetes and obesity has skyrocketed over the last several decades. A paragraph from the national obesity statistics encapsulates an important point; ”Obesity statistics paint an alarming picture – and one that’s getting worse. In the UK around 43% of men and 33% of women are overweight, and a further 22% of men and 23% of women fall into the obese category.” A factor in this, which is supported by research, is the increased consumption of simple sugars and sugar rich snacks. Fast digesting, almost fibre-free carbs can increase hunger, decrease energy output and encourage weight gain. Carbs provide our body with energy as we all know but too much of the wrong types at the wrong times will do you no good. Most if not all of your carb sources should be high in fibre, slow digesting (low GI) and as unprocessed as possible. Eating carbs with them qualities will keep your energy, hunger and mood stable and will ensure your metabolic furnace remains ticking over. My top 3 favourites are:

  • Oats
  • Sweet potato
  • Quinoa


Fats – I had a look at someone’s diet at my gym once and they pulled a very confused face when I told them to replace their reduced fat peanut butter with the natural full fat version. It’s absolutely essential you include a sensible amount of healthy fat in your diet for metabolic, hormonal and immune related reasons. Mono-unsaturated, poly-unsaturated fats (omega 3’s & 6’s and 9’s) and small amounts of saturated fat will help you stay in good health when restricting calories. Good fats will improve fat loss and muscle building via certain hormonal and metabolic pathways and particularly whilst dieting hard it will keep your immune system functioning well at a time when your body may not be at its fighting best. My top 3 favourites are:

  • Flax seeds
  • Avocados
  • Mixed nuts


Water – This is last but certainly not least. As I’m sure you should know by now water is absolutely essential for good health. It really does surprise me how little water most people drink. I have seen many people complain of headaches and only when asked how much water they average a day do they realise how little they consume. Water is the first thing we look for when searching planets for life because it is the foundation for it. The average person loses around 2 litres of water a day through sweat, urine and moisture lost through respiration. If you drink less than 2 litres a day you are likely not replacing what you’ve lost naturally, you will then lose more if you exercise. The amount you need really depends on your muscle mass and exercise regime. But aiming to drink any where between 2-3 litres a day is a good idea if you exercise moderately. Proper hydration will aid the digestion of food and will help transport nutrients a lot more effectively throughout the body. Hydration also aids fat loss and will allow you to work out harder in the gym. Besides the body is afterall around 70% water.
My favourites:

  • Mineral water
  • Filtered and fluoride free

Perception, Consciousness and the Physical World


We only observe the physical world because we have senses and a collective perception that projects a model for us to observe and interpret. Our five senses; Sight (ophthalmoception), hearing (audioception), taste (gustaoception), smell (olfacoception or olfacception), and touch (tactioception) are crucial in helping us to navigate and makes sense of the physical world. But what if these senses ceased to exist? Imagine this. You lose your sight and your hearing and you can now only find your way around by touching things (somatosensation). Imagine how you would interpret the physical world. People already do interpret the physical world without these senses. It would change your conception of the world indefinitely as you’re forced to rely on your alternate senses.

But let’s go further. Eventually you lose your sense of touch on your skin and throughout your entire body and you can no longer have the ability to taste objects. You wont suddenly feel hungry because you’re completely disconnected from your body. Now you feel nothing, weightless, not too far off how one might feel in a dark floatation tank except for you can’t get out and you really are just an existing state of consciousness that can conceptualise variations in aromas. You could be walking mindlessly into a field and the only connection you have to the physical world is the nostalgic scent of fresh cut grass as reminder it still exists.

Fractal, Dream, Math, Background, Pink, ImaginationNow let’s remove your final sense so now all you see is what you can visualise in your minds eye. You feel nothing, hear nothing, see nothing, taste nothing and smell nothing, all you have are your thoughts and whatever pictures, patterns or colours your minds eye as a product of cognition. How would you know you are even alive? You could mindlessly and uncoordinatedly manoeuvre into a wall or even in front of a moving car, get hit, but you would not feel the force of the of the car hit you and send you in the air. There is nothing to ground you in the physical world. You suffer a head injury and go into a coma but you will not be able to distinguish from the point of being conscious and going into a coma when you wake because a memory is based on a visual model of the physical world which requires perception. Therefore, likewise when you wake from your coma you will not be able to determine the point at which you woke from your coma either. Like a brain in vat, existing exclusively as a state of consciousness. You can think, you exist, but, you are living in a plane of existence distinct from that of the physical one, one which is based purely in a cognitive and dare I say, spiritual realm. Furthermore, I add again how would we know whether we were alive or dead to begin with?


Fractal, Energy, Plasma, Science, MetaphysicalWe exist in a physical world only because we have the capacity to observe it. We know as a matter of fact there are things that exist that we do not have the capacity to observe with our 5 senses; infrared, radio-waves, UV light, antimatter, atoms etc which are all beyond our visual ability. So it’s not inconceivable, light years away or even billions of years in future, there may be organisms with all of our senses including additional senses to view the physical world and each other unimaginable ways. I have grappled with this concept in many abstract forms and have applied it to death and the possibility of an afterlife. We still don’t know what creates consciousness. We don’t know if it is even created by physical matter or if it exists without it. After death the senses, which are derived from physical matter, would cease to work, but consciousness may not. The “afterlife” could well be an eternal experience of many possible states of consciousness. To some this may not be as comforting as the thought of going to heaven, but its no less plausible and we are just as ignorant about the reality of both.


Space, Fractal, Energy, Artwork, Metaphysical, Science


Vitamin A

History of Vitamin A 

Vitamin A was the first vitamin ever discovered so it was named
after the first letter of the alphabet. Elmer V. McCollum and
marguerite Davis discovered vitamin A during 1912–1914. In
1913, Yale researchers, Thomas Osborne and Lafayette Mendel
discovered that butter contained a fat soluble nutrient soon
known as vitamin A. Vitamin A was first synthesized in a
laboratory in 1947 where it could be used in supplement form .

There has been much earlier references to vitamin A dating back to 400 B.C where biblical writing describes how the squeezing of liver juice into the eyes was used as treatment for eye disease. Of course we know now the cause of this eye disease was due to vitamin A deficiency. This deficiency was restored by the high amounts of vitamin A present in liver.

Most people have heard their mum say “eat your carrots they’ll
make you see in the dark!” well there is actually logic behind that
statement, read on to find out why.

What is vitamin A

  • Vitamin A is an essential vitamin that we can not produce
  • It’s fat soluble so needs dietary fat with it to be absorbed
  • It’s divided into 2 forms, preformed vitamin A retinol made of fat soluble retinoids from animal sources and provitamin A carotene made of carotenoids from plant sources (retinol and beta-carotene being the most common)
  • Provitamin A (basically meaning before vitamin A) beta carotene needs to be converted into one of its active forms retinal and retinoic acid before we can use it
  • Preformed vitamin A retinol from animal products is already in a bioactive form and most likely already converted by an animal that once consumed provitamin A 
  • Vitamin A beta carotene is also a powerful antioxidant

Vitamin A along with other fat soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and in the fat cells so providing adequate vitamin A intake is met, reserves can build up and stores can last months so it doesn’t necessarily need to be consumed everyday providing a reasonable amount is eaten at each time.


What does vitamin A do?

  • Vitamin A makes our eyes, skin, lining of the nose and immune system healthy and functioning properly.
  • Our eyes need vitamin A retinol to produce pigments in the eyes retina that allow the conversion of light energy into electrical impulses allowing for low light and colour vision (scoptopic vision).
  • Pro vitamin A beta carotene is an antioxidant that stops harmful unpaired electrons known as free radicals causing damage in the body destroying healthy cells.


Historical uses for vitamin A

  • Useful in preventing eye disorders prevent cataracts and is used to improve eyesight and night vision
  • Improves recovery from laser eye surgery when combined with vitamin E
  • Reduces complications from serious diseases such as HIV, malaria, measles and diarrhoea in children with vitamin a deficiency
  • May help to fight bronchitis
  • Can reduce the risk of high blood pressure
  • Reduces health issues in malnourished women during and after pregnancy
  • Raises men’s sperm count
  • Useful for skin conditions such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, cold sores, wounds, burns and sunburn
  • It can also be applied to the skin to reduce wrinkles, improve wound healing and to protect the skin from UV rays
  • Effective at treating gastrointestinal ulcers, Crohn’s disease, gum disease, diabetes, Hurler syndrome, sinus infections, hay fever, and urinary tract infections
  • May help to prevent cancer, protecting the heart and cardiovascular system, slowing the aging process, and boosting the immune system due to its antioxidant properties
  • Vitamin A may also ease alcohol withdrawal symptoms


Vitamin A deficiencies

Common deficiency symptoms:

  • Reduced night vision or night blindness
  • Reduced day light/colour vision
  • Dry and/or sore, inflamed eyes
  • Rough and/or dry skin
  • Dry hair
  • Yellow/orange colouring of the skin
  • Reduced appetite
  • Broken/ridged nails

Hypovitaminosis A is a condition caused by vitamin A deficiency. It can lead to mild conditions such as night blindness to more severe problems like cataracts and full on blindness. If your diet is low in a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables then it may lead to health problems over time that may be reflected by some mild symptoms such as inability to see in low light conditions.
Pregnant women tend to be vitamin A deficient and more so during the last trimester as the fetal demand is at its highest.
Between 100 and 140 million children are vitamin A deficient, 250,000-500,000 of these children become blind every year and half of these die within 12 months of losing their sight. This deficiency is leading cause of preventable blindness in children. Unfortunately not every child has access to a healthy diet like we have the privilege of having. Many children in developing countries every day fall victim to hypovitaminosis outside of their control. One more reason to make the most of the healthy foods we have the privilege of having because having vegetables in the diet for some can mean the difference between life and death

There are two types of vitamin A deficiency, primary and secondary:

  • Primary deficiency is caused by a direct prolonged deficiency of vitamin A which is usually the case in developing countries and countries where rice is a staple food, as rice contains no beta carotene or retinol. This type of deficiency in many cases can be alleviated in time by consuming adequate vitamin A through meat, dairy and vegetables.
  • Secondary deficiency is caused by an inability to convert carotene into vitamin A and can be also be attributed to conditions where improper absorption of nutrients are concerned. People suffering with coeliacs, cystic fibrosis, pancreatic and liver disease are all at risk of secondary vitamin A deficiency. Alcoholism is also another cause of secondary deficiency.


Vitamin A over dose

Common overdosing symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Peeling skin
  • Hair loss
  • Tiredness
  • Menstrual irregularity
  • Enlarged liver
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Skin discolouration (orange tint)
  • Birth defects
  • Reduced bone density

Hypervitaminosis A, which is toxicity from consuming excessive amounts of vitamin A is more likely to occur from retinol the animal source. Vitamin A retinol from animal sources can become toxic in consistently high doses due to the accumulation of it in the fat and liver stores where it is stored. Therefore excessive doses of retinol long term should not be consumed.

It has been documented that vitamin A retinol toxicity has been responsible for a number of deaths. Certain animal livers will contain such tremendously high amounts of vitamin A that it will kill you if you consumed. For older children and adults, you need more than 100,000 IU per day for months before you start to accumulate any serious toxicity. To give you an example of the scale of this, 200g of beef liver would give you 110,000iu of vitamin A retinol, which if consumed everyday would result in toxic illness and liver problems. Whereas 200g of polar bear liver would give you 4,800,000iu! So literally one bite would be enough to make you seriously ill, very quickly. In 1913 two Antarctic explorers Douglas Mawson and Xavier Mertz were both poisoned (and Mertz died) from eating the livers of their sled dogs. In 1974 a British man called Basil Brown who was a well known scientist and “heath food addict” who consumed 10 gallons of carrot juice which is 10,000 times the amount of RDA in 10 days, unfortunately those were his last 10 ten days as his skin turned bright yellow he died of severe liver damage.

Despite these cases, its very unlikely for anyone to consume that amount (150,000IU) or for anyone here to eat the livers of exotic animals that contain such toxic amounts of vitamin A retinol everyday. Lower but still excessive doses around 4,500IU of daily vitamin A consumption (which is more then 6x the RDA) is likely to leach your bones of minerals reducing bone density putting you at risk for osteoporosis as you age. The key is dont consume any more than couple carrots each week, some sweet potatoes each week, liver once a month and you’ll be healthy.


Daily Intake
Measurements are in IU which means international units, mcg which means micrograms and mg for milligrams, different measurements are usually used for different foods and brands so I have included all 3 to make things easier for you)

RNI (Reference Nutrient Intake, gender and age specific nutrient requirements) of vitamin A intake
0 to 12 months: 350mcg/0.35mg day (1166IU)
children 1 to 3 years: 400mcg/0.4mg day (1333IU)
children 4 to 10 years: 500mcg/0.5mg day (1666IU)
children 11 to 14 years: 600mcg/0.6mg day (2000IU)
males 15 years and older: 700mcg/0.7mg day (2333IU)
females 15 years and older: 600mcg/0.6mg day (2000IU)
Pregnant women: 700mcg/0.7mg day (2333IU)
Breastfeeding women: 950mcg/0.95mg day (3166IU)
Over 65 years: 600mcg/0.6mg day (2000IU)

Top sources of vitamin A carotene
Carrots, sweet potato, pumpkins, kale, spinach, collards, turnip greens, winter squash, mango, tomato
Top sources of vitamin A retinol
Liver, salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout, tuna, beef, milk, skimmed milk powder, butter, margarine, cheese, eggs and cod liver oil

Foods that provide around 100% of RNI of vitamin A for adults
150g sweet potato (600mg), 100g carrot (800mcg), 1.5ltr whole milk (690mcg), 10g beef liver (600mcg), 100g mango (694mcg)