Testing for Vitamin A Poisoning – A Low Vitamin A Diet
A low vitamin A diet trial was my confirmation that I was vitamin A poisoned. I knew within 24 to 48 hours that I had found the cause of my problems.
I find a dietary trial to be the most informative test. It can be repeated as many times as you like, the results can be near immediate, it doesn’t require a visit to your doctor, and no one is poking around in your organs, causing damage.
It comes with some drawbacks: you need to be well in tune with your body, especially if you are dealing with ever changing emotional or not well defined symptoms. On top of that, once you drastically reduce your vitamin A intake, you may develop extreme reactions to foods which didn’t cause much of a problem before.
This type of approach is a developing field. There is no generally agreed upon, tried and tested way to implement a low vitamin A diet trial that works for everyone equally well and at all times. There is an ongoing discussion about which foods to include and which to eliminate with sometimes conflicting opinions.
The following reflects mostly my take on it. You may see good results with other approaches.
What is a low vitamin A diet?
That’s where the discussion starts. There is no definite answer to this question, as far as I can see it.
It may be anything between 0 and 1,500 IU of vitamin A per day. Some say that going below the RDA of 3,000 IU is considered low vitamin A.
Others may need to go close to zero IU per day to have a definite confirmation. (Technically, it’s not possible to go completely zero since all foods contain trace amounts of vitamin A.)
The allowed vitamin A intake may also vary from person to person, depending on their level of poisoning and how they respond to the intervention.
In general, it seems that people who cut out vitamin A more drastically (who go on a muscle meat carnivory, or beans, rice, and beef diet) don’t experience the detox phase, or less frequently.
Here, I will describe the two general approaches that I find the most valuable.
How to implement a low vitamin A diet
Pick an upper limit of vitamin A you want to ingest per day (between 0 and 1,500 IU), track your foods with an app like eatthismuch.com and at the same time keep a journal of your symptoms. Rate them every day to track progress or lack thereof.
Remove all supplements that contain vitamin A in any form.
Here is what you are allowed to eat on a low vitamin A diet, depending on how strict you want (or need) to go:
- Very strict: max 100 IU per day
There are different options how to implement a super low vitamin A diet:
- Muscle meat carnivory. You eat only meat. No organs, no eggs, no dairy, no fish. The meats can include beef, bison, lamb, chicken, turkey, pork (there is some debate about that, see below), boar, and venison. An even more restrictive version of this diet is the Lion Diet, consisting of only ruminant meats like beef, bison, venison, and lamb.
- Muscle meat, black beans
- Muscle meat, black beans, rice (white, brown, or black)
- Less strict: max 1,500 IU per day
Includes any of the above, plus:
- Beans (black, kidney, white, pinto) and lentils
- Oats, barley, quinoa,
- Pale or white fruit, for example: peeled apples, peeled pears, bananas, pineapple, grapes, blueberries, strawberries, lemon, lychee,
- Pale or white veggies and starches, for example: white carrots, white corn, parsnips, parsley root, celery root, potatoes, cauliflower, green cabbage, mushrooms, kohlrabi, asparagus, onions (both white and red), peeled zucchini, peeled cucumber,
- Nuts: Peanuts, almonds, macademia, hazelnuts, walnuts,
Fats to use (see notes below):
- Olive oil, sparingly
- Lard (I think it’s mostly fine, others disagree, see discussion below)
- Organs (liver, kidneys)
- Cod Liver Oil
- Fatty fish, but especially mackerel, tuna, salmon, eel, fish roe
- Winter squash (pumpkin, butternut squash, etc.)
- Sweet potatoes
- Orange carrots
- Most foods which are bright orange, red, yellow, or dark green, examples: chard, kale, tomatoes, bell peppers, papaya, mango, cantaloupe
- Bright colored spices: cayenne pepper, paprika
Debate about pork, coffee, sweeteners, cauliflower, etc.
In the low vitamin A community there are ongoing debates about certain foods and whether they should be included in a low vitamin A diet or not, with different camps taking on different stances. Some issues are still unresolved.
Pork: According to various food apps and the USDA nutrition data base, pork contains very little or no vitamin A, which is true especially for lean cuts. Despite this, Dr. Garrett Smith thinks that pork contains a not easily identifiable or measurable form of vitamin A. I tend to believe that pork is NOT a significant source of vitamin A. I have experimented with pork numerous times and I could not identify symptoms which I attribute to vitamin A poisoning. I found this to be true for lean cuts like tenderloin. Fatty cuts like bacon are not entirely clear to me, yet. This may also vary from country to country or farm to farm, depending on the animal feed and received supplementation.
Coffee: Although it is as good as zero vitamin A, it does seem to stimulate bile flow which can be problematic for people with some form of bile duct obstruction. Grant Genereux was drinking coffee for a good portion of his ongoing low vitamin A experiment, but then stopped and reported improvements in certain areas. This didn’t seem to have anything to do with a change in the vitamin A intake, though. Dr. Smith is of the opinion that caffein is a plant toxin and discourages its consumption.
Sweeteners: Vitamin A causes inflammation. Sweeteners can further add to the existing inflammation even if some of them do not contain vitamin A. In addition, I speculate that a significant portion of vitamin A poisoned people suffers from some degree of fatty liver disease. Carbs can contribute to this type of liver damage and make it worse. Sugar of course is the most concentrated form of carbohydrates. So, I think that it’s best to completely abstain from any form of sweeteners, including stevia (there is conflicting evidence about stevia which shows both a liver protective as well as a liver damaging effect). Having said that, maple syrup, honey, and white sugar (I know, it’s crazy) contain zero vitamin A. Keep also in mind that some countries fortify sugar with vitamin A.
Cauliflower: Grant Genereux speculates that cauliflower could be responsible for contributing to the detox phase during which people feel a temporary worsening of symptoms. I haven’t eaten any cauliflowers since starting my low vitamin A diet and I did experience the detox set-back. This is something that will need to be investigated more in depth.
Fats: There doesn’t seem to be a good solution to this, yet, since most fats appear to contain some form of vitamin A. Animals tend to accumulate retinol in their fat. This results in possibly significant levels of vitamin A in tallow and lard. Grant recommends small amounts of olive oil. Refined oils seem to have less vitamin A than unrefined ones but can contain beta-carotenes as colorants. Personally, I believe that lard is acceptable in small amounts. Another solution is to boil or broil foods instead of frying them. Many poisoned people seem to benefit from a low fat diet in addition to a low vitamin A diet.
How long does it take to see results?
I saw two of my symptoms (out of a list of 30+) improve within one or two days. I took that as confirmation of vitamin A poisoning.
Grant Genereux saw a significant drop in his overall body-wide inflammation in the first three days of his reduced vitamin A diet (pages 58ff ). For the following 3 to 4 weeks he saw only some or no minor progress, and was about to give up. He decided to continue for another three days, during which he felt a profound transformation to the positive with complete resolution of fatigue, joint pain, and brain fog.
I know someone who has been on a beef and black beans diet for two months without seeing any results to his fatigue and so overall health status, but a marked improvement in digestion and liver enzymes.
A study on people with psoriasis showed that some participants responded within four weeks to see the first slight improvements on a low vitamin A diet, while others had to wait up to 4.5 months to see marked improvements.
How quickly someone responds to a low vitamin A diet may depend on many different factors: the level of poisoning, the type of damage, and how much they restricted the vitamin A intake.
I would take any sign of improvement within the first two months as a confirmation that vitamin A is responsible for at least some measure of damage.
What are the pros and cons of a low vitamin A diet?
1. Temporary hypersensitivity to vitamin A. It appears that some who switch to a low vitamin A diet, develop a temporary hypersensitivity to vitamin A or carotenoids.
Foods that they were able to consume with only mild or barely any reactions, now trigger extreme responses. This can be in the form of any of the known vitamin A symptoms.
It is not clear how often this occurs or if some people are more predisposed to this than others. The solution may be to completely abstain from the trigger foods for a while.
2. Detox phase. This detox or setback phase typically sets in within a month or two after going low vitamin A. Grant Genereux estimates that around 50% of people experience it.
During the detox phase, symptoms that had initially improved can worsen again. Old symptoms from years or decades ago can resurface. I believe that this is when people tend to experience hypersensitivity to vitamin A.
The detox phase can include any known vitamin A toxicity symptoms. There are case reports of hypervitaminosis A that cite the onset of hair loss months after the cessation of vitamin A supplements, although other symptoms had completely resolved.
3. It can take time to see results, longer than the estimated 6 to 8 weeks. Grant was about to give up after three weeks, luckily he persisted and it paid off. Especially when dealing with manifest symptoms like eyesight, hyperpigmentation on the skin, abdominal pain, or fatty liver, it may take longer to see improvements.
4. Requires being “in tune” with your body. Some changes may be subtle and difficult to track. Things like cognitive function, fatigue, and anxiety — there may be changes that are imperceptible at first. It may require being in tune with your body’s response to understand what really happens. Keeping a journal is a good idea.
5. It requires a lot of discipline. Keeping to a certain diet requires a lot of focus and determination. Generally, the sicker you are, the higher will be your motivation to stick to it. Pain can be an incredible catalyst for change. It has been for me.
1, You can see results within a few days. It is not unusual to see some kind of improvement, even if just in some symptoms within the first few days. I saw a significant reduction in ankle swelling and a resolution of chills within one to two days.
2. It can be repeated multiple times. If you are not sure if it was indeed the vitamin A that played a role, you can re-verify your results as many times as you need to find confirmation. Are you not sure if your improved energy levels were because you stopped eating eggs? Start eating them again and observe what happens. Keep in mind, that there can be a delayed reaction, and keep in mind that each time you re-poison yourself with vitamin A, the next time it can get harder to detox.
3. You don’t need a doctor. You don’t need a prescription, you don’t need to see your doctor at all for that. All you need is a well-stocked supermarket. Maybe not even that – just buy stuff online and have it delivered to you.
4. Non-invasive. There is no poking involved, no needles, no anesthesia to put you under for a liver biopsy. Consequently, there is no risk of organ damage or infections.
5. Low risk. Yes, there is the risk of detox symptoms or temporary hypersensitivity to vitamin A foods, but compared to the risks during a liver biopsy, they are minor and transitory.
6. It requires a lot of discipline. Keeping to a certain diet in the pursuit of a concrete health goal requires a lot of discipline. Which is a cool thing to learn.
Note, October 27th, 2023: This is an article that I originally published on my vitaminapoisoning.com website (now deleted).