Okay ya'll. Enough research has come down the pipeline in front of me that I'm starting question vitamin A's status as a nutrition superstar, but instead a necessary evil in which excess accumulation should be avoided (mostly in the form of supplements). And since I want to keep you up to date on the latest and the greatest information that comes before me, enter the vitamin A detox diet. The vitamin A detox diet is for people who may be sensitive to vitamin A or suspect vitamin A toxicity. This diet may be therapeutic for a very short period of time, but only for those who need it. Here's why...
Vitamin A excess in the body is much a problem of developed countries due to:
- Prescription drugs containing vitamin A (think acne drugs)
- Carotenoids in essential oils (taken orally or applied topically to the skin)
- Birth control pill use (increases vitamin A in the body) [11,13]
- Vitamin A fortified foods (dairy + processed foods)
- Other supplements: cod liver oil, etc.
- Anti-aging and beauty creams containing vitamin A
- "Healthy" diets containing lots of high vitamin A foods that are available "on demand" and not seasonally as intended
- Overdosing on milk and cheese
- Increase in liver consumption
If enough of those apply to you, take a look at the following list and see if you can check any more off symptoms that are connected to overexposure to vitamin A:
- Leaky gut [1,11]
- Hair loss [9,11]
- Thyroid issues [2,11]
- Low vitamin D [3,11]
- Low vitamin B12 + folate [6,7,11]
- Eczema/skin issues [4,12]
- Anxiety/depression [14,11]
Alright, if I have your attention by now, go ahead and hop over and read my post all about vitamin A toxicity here or go the lazy route and read my summary below...
Vitamin A Toxicity
There is a very interesting and compelling theory circling the internet that vitamin A and it’s plant precursor, carotenoids, may not be a vitamin after all, but instead a toxin that is harmless at low levels but has a tipping point when it’s storage in the liver is exhausted. The theory originates from Grant Genereux, who contends that vitamin A toxicity happens at far, far lower levels than documented in the literature and is a cause of body-wide poisoning and perhaps the real cause of autoimmune disease.
You see, 90% of vitamin A is stored in your liver, and released into the bloodstream on a as-needed basis. But what happens when your liver’s storage capacity is full? The theory assumes that when the liver is already overwhelmed by vitamin A, it accumulates in tissues and fat storage leading to systematic inflammation, most specifically noted in changes to the skin, bones, and vision (read more here).
The Vitamin A Detox Diet Specifics
Now let's get into the vitamin A detox diet. The goal here is to take in less vitamin A than your body is actually using, so over time vitamin A storage levels in the body drop to a healthier level. Supposedly, the ideal time frame for this diet is 3 months.
Here's the big "no list:"
- Dairy (other than butter and ghee)
- Egg yolks (whites are okay)
- Most colorful vegetables (think orange + red specifically and dark green for their high carotenoid, or pro-vitamin A content)
- Vitamin A containing supplements (liver, cod liver oil, etc.)
- Any skin product or essential oil that is high in vitamin A or carotenoids
The basics of the low vitamin A diet is pretty easy. You're not restricting anything too important (ie. calories, carbs, proteins, or fats), instead you're just strategically weeding out foods that are naturally or synthetically engineered to have high levels of vitamin A. Because vitamin A carotenoids tend to give food their color, foods without vitamin A tend to be on the whiter side.
Even better perhaps, is this diet is NOT geared at weight loss. Instead it's targeting at increasing health (by reducing toxicity in the body). But, as you know, weight loss can be a natural byproduct of getting healthy....
Here's the basics of the vitamin A detox diet or what I'm calling the "white diet" due to white foods naturally being the lowest in vitamin A.
To oversimplify, a low vitamin A or a vitamin A detox diet is going to include a lot of "white foods", but not exclusively:
- select seafood (pink seafood like salmon and shrimp contain the most vitamin A)
- olive oil
- coconut oil
- coconut milk
- dark chocolate (not milk chocolate)
Vegetables (remove peels if they are colorful)
- white potatoes
Fruits (peeled is preferred)
- dried cranberries
Grains (organic ONLY, glyphosate found in inorganic grains may exacerbate the vitamin A issue) 
- white rice
- slow fermented sourdough bread (organic only!)
- other gluten-free organic grains
- all beans except green beans, peas and mung beans
- most nuts
- Alcohol (in moderation shows to help remove vitamin A) [8,11]
- Spices - keep in mind vitamin A content and the quantity used.
Beyond that, it's pretty easy to lookup a food (here) and get a general feel for how much vitamin A it contains.
That's the very oversimplified basics of the vitamin A detox diet. According to Genereux, the originator of the most strict form of the diet, three months is a good time frame to detox vitamin A. But of course check with your doctor or healthcare practitioner before trying anything you read here (or anywhere on the internet) on yourself, because that would be just plain risky.
And one last reminder — this is only meant for people who have documented hypervitaminosis A or have overdosed in the form of supplements. Excluding a wide variety of foods from your diet is not something one should do without a very good reason.
Have you ever tried a vitamin A detox diet? Please share in the comments!
- Retinoic acid-primed human dendritic cells inhibit Th9 cells and induce Th1/Th17 cell differentiation. 2016. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26980802
- Retinoic acid effects on thyroid function of female rats. 2009. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19233213
- All-trans retinoic acid antagonizes the action of calciferol and its active metabolite, 1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol, in rats." 2005. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15987844
- Psoriasis and vitamin A. Plasma transport and skin content of retinol, dehydroretinol and carotenoids in adult patients versus healthy controls. 1985. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4096526
- Epigenetic changes
- Decreased Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid Concentrations in Acne Patients After Isotretinoin Therapy: A Controlled Study. 2014. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4248518/
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- The Adverse Effects of Alcohol on Vitamin A Metabolism. 2012 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3367262/
- Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use. 2017. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5315033/
- Co-adjuvant effects of retinoic acid and IL-15 induce inflammatory immunity to dietary antigens. 2011. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3076739/
- Vitamin A, Pregnancy, and Oral Contraceptives. 1974. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1632878/
- The neurotoxic effects of vitamin A and retinoids. 2015. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0001-3765201520140677