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This article is an introduction to the Vitamin A Detox diet: What is it? And why does it show promise in improving leaky gut, autoimmune issues, mental health, eye, lung, bladder, blood sugar, skin conditions and more? You’ll be able to consider and try the diet more easily with the food lists provided below. These free lists and printable grocery list designate which foods to avoid and which foods to eat freely.
While doing a Vitamin A elimination diet to reduce toxicity, it may be helpful to remember that Vitamin A containing foods are not all “bad”. The toxicity of Vitamin A is discussed below, but remember to eat with a calm, peaceful state of mind and a sense of freedom and enjoyment. We don’t benefit from added stress. For most people, a restricted diet is intended to be short term, so detoxification and healing can happen. In the meantime, it is wise and joyful to enjoy our meals.
A Background on Vitamin A Toxicity
What follows is a lengthy explanation of the Vitamin A toxicity theory, which I intended to be brief by way of an introduction to the Vitamin A food lists. Nonetheless, I found I had a lot to say and a lot of research to share. I hope you’ll benefit.
This concept was introduced five years ago by an engineer named Grant Genereux. He wrote a free e-book called Extinguishing the Fires of Hell. In 2017, he wrote a second free e-book, Poisoning for Profits. Grant’s research is thorough and has the potential to change the health of thousands, if not millions of people.
Those of us with tricky or frustrating health concerns are willing to try the Vitamin A detox diet and be the first ones to see if Grant’s theory is right. Chock-full of scientific studies to back up his reasoning, Grant’s e-books are compelling to anyone willing to look at the studies and reconsider their formerly held set of nutritional beliefs.
Grant discusses the historical introduction of Vitamin A as a supplement. He looks at the corruption involved in making premature and incorrect conclusions about Vitamin A’s benefits.
Grant then discusses Vitamin A’s role in the body:
“… vitamin-A is a fat (lipid) soluble molecule. Therefore, it will naturally be absorbed (emulsified) by fats. This includes both dietary fats, and the body’s storage fats. For us, most of the storage of vitamin-A is in the fats within the liver, and to a lesser extent in the fats of the adipose tissues (the skin etc.) … As the liver becomes more and more saturated, more vitamin-A will remain in serum longer and slowly seep into and accumulate within the lipids of the adipose tissues. Even with that, the vitamin-A stored within these fats is not yet toxic … So, vitamin-A in reasonable amounts, given adequate amounts of dietary fats and proteins, is by itself not too terrible. However, there is a tipping point to where vitamin-A can, and does, easily convert into an extremely nasty, and highly toxic molecule (and the thought to be active form of the vitamin). This converted vitamin-A molecule is called retinoic acid.”
Grant goes on to explain that retinoic acid is used as a chemotherapy drug. (sources) What makes retinoic acid effective is that it kills replicating cells. He says, “… every cell in the body will convert excess vitamin-A into retinoic acid. The overall rate of conversion is proportional to the number of cells that are exposed to the vitamin-A molecule. I believe it’s also proportional to the number of cells with damaged cell membranes. Therefore, to be safe, there should never be any excess vitamin-A in the body. What does excess vitamin-A mean? It means several things. One is that you never want to consume vitamin-A at a rate that exceeds your body’s safe storage rate.”
Genes, diet, age, environment and other epigenetic factors affect our body’s ability to process Vitamin A excess. Many with autoimmune issues have inherent detox limitations. But ultimately, anyone with too much Vitamin A in their liver will reach that point of toxicity.
He continues, “As we start to exceed the vitamin-A load carrying capacity of those lipids, we will move into the toxicity state … Once we approach these limits, more and more circulating vitamin-A will be exposed to cells, and the subsequent normal processes of converting vitamin-A to retinoic acid will take place.”
As one study says, “…there is a growing body of evidences showing that vitamin A doses exceeding the nutritional requirements may lead to negative consequences, including bioenergetics state dysfunction, redox impairment, altered cellular signaling, and cell death or proliferation, depending on the cell type. Neurotoxicity has long been demonstrated as a possible side effect of inadvertent consumption, or even under medical recommendation of vitamin A and retinoids at moderate to high doses.” (source)
When there is retinoic acid in the intercellular fluids, cellular damage is most likely to occur, according to Grant, in the eyes and in the skin. Visual disturbances (spotty vision etc.), eye diseases, declining eyesight and dry eyes are extremely common conditions. Eczema affects 20 percent of American children, 30 percent of whom also have food allergies. Skin issues in general affect a huge percent of the adult population.
Grant also has some fascinating insights about the retinoic acid-based drug Accutane and how its use for acne causes the same well-documented side effects as Vitamin A poisoning.
Grant takes it one step further to point out that Crohn’s and IBS are inflammatory diseases of our internal skin. Symptoms of Vitamin A toxicity and Crohn’s are remarkably similar. (source and source p. 154) Because the liver can be saturated at any point in a person’s life, it can take a very small amount of additional Vitamin A (often coupled with stress) to push someone into a toxic zone. This explains why many of us “all of a sudden” break out with a rash or start having blurry vision or dry eyes that we can’t resolve. It also explains recurrent and additional autoimmune conditions, or a leaky gut that just won’t heal.
Grant explains, “The body is safely absorbing and storing all the daily doses until it gets to a slightly saturated point. It is important to understand that all those stored doses have not suddenly become toxic; no, they’re safely stored. It’s the additional doses that cannot be absorbed, or absorbed fast enough, by the liver that are now becoming toxic. What these people are doing is filling up their storage capacity for this substance, and thereby reducing their absorption rates.” (source p. 164)
What does PubMed Say?
PubMed studies are part of what convinced me to take a longer look at the concept of Vitamin A toxicity. Anthony R. Mawson shares a great article here on the correlation of high levels of Vitamin A with many modern mental health concerns, ranging from ADHD to depression. My own personal experience with mild mental health issues led me to trial the diet just briefly. Immediate benefits convinced me to continue my interest in the Vitamin A toxicity theory.
Mawson says, “Environmental exposures leading to alterations in physiological concentrations of retinoids are associated with birth defects and fetal loss. There is also evidence that high serum concentrations of retinoids resulting from dietary intake, vitamin A supplements, and therapeutic retinoids are causally associated with cognitive impairments, mood disorders (e.g., depression), persistent agitation, suicide, and other forms of violence.”
Another study discusses Vitamin A and its precursors as dietary hormones. When combined with environmental pollutants, the author asserts the various functions that can be disrupted, including healthy pregnancies, immune and skin health.
In fact, there are many studies linking excess Vitamin A with various illnesses: malaria, Epstein–Barr virus (EBV), Burkitt’s lymphoma (BL) and increased risk of cancer mortality, to name a few. (source, source)
The Vitamin A detox concept is an unexpected and exciting new path for those of us desperate enough in our search for optimum health to try something contrary to what we’ve been taught. Science propels us to be among the first to try this diet and report back on its effects on our bodies.
Why act now? As Mawson says, “Given that about 80% of vitamin A is stored in the liver, sudden shifts in these stores to other tissues due to infection, chronic illness or trauma can result in severe vitamin A poisoning.”
Whether pregnant, nursing or struggling with unresolved health concerns, Vitamin A in excess is toxic, and it’s arguable that most of us have too much stored in our livers.
Eating Too Much Vitamin A
Is it possible that many in the Traditional community are consuming too many Vitamin A rich foods? If liver is super high in nutrients, do we need to eat it everyday? Upon reflection, we know that too much of a good thing is actually harmful.
However, super foods such as liver and cod liver oil are not the only sources to blame.
Americans who consume a standard diet are constantly exposed to Vitamin A through glyphosate, the poison so commonly used on American food crops. Even well water is contaminated with glyphosate. While glyposate itself isn’t high in Vitamin A, it greatly inhibits the detoxification of Vitamin A.
Which Supplements have Vitamin A
When considering which foods to eliminate for a Vitamin A detox, we must also consider supplements that contain Vitamin A as well as supplements that contain carotenoids, retinol, retinyl, retinoids and retinoic acid (natural precursors to Vitamin A). I recently exchanged my B complex that contained Vitamin A for one that does not. My doctor helped me to add in minerals as well.
Genereux also implicates and recommends the removal of specific carotenoids: lutein and zeaxanthin. (source p. 205)
Anyone with suspected Vitamin A toxicity should avoid liver pills, fish oil, krill oil, cod liver oil and any other seafood oils. I myself have eaten and used these supplements for years.
Usually food-based supplements that are dark in color, like spirulina or Vitamin E pills, reflect their high carotenoid content and should be removed. Vitamin C supplements should be removed.
Additionally, Genereux warns that too much Vitamin E in the diet or through supplements causes an increase in serum vitamin A levels.
Dr. Smith recommends eliminating Vitamin D supplements. (source) If you currently take iodine, you might also share this article with your doctor and consider the potential dangers of potassium iodide.
Personally, I have eliminated more than half of the supplements I was taking! My supplements were like my friends. But I am feeling so good, and one by one I have been able to eliminate several of them, something I never expected but for which I had hoped!
(Genereux takes zinc, in addition to B vitamins.)
If you see any mistakes in the following lists, please let me know! My goal is to create a most helpful and free resource so that more of us can try this diet and make encouraging progress with stubborn health concerns. (I also highly recommend you read Genereux’s e-books, here and here.)
As you’ll see below, when we remove Vitamin A from the diet, we also remove most colorful veggies. Yet anyone who can digest fruit well can still enjoy colorful meals on the VAD diet! A lot of fruits are allowed. (I can’t personally eat fruit, but thankfully I LOVE mushrooms, sauerkraut and carob!) …
One additional consideration, this concept is still a theory. How best to detoxify Vitamin A is still being discovered by Grant and those of us on the diet. That being said, occasionally dietary changes to the protocol will be made. Recently, cauliflower, pears and bananas were removed from the diet: It is possible that formaldehyde in these foods is competing for the same alcohol dehydrogenase enzymes and inhibiting detoxification. So I recommend checking back here every once in a while for dietary updates. I also recommend following Grant’s blog, if interested in the process, where he discusses “the experiment”.
Foods High in Vitamin A (the Avoid List)
Note on the foods listed below: Because Vitamin A is fat soluble, you won’t get as much from a food if it’s prepared with water. However, when foods high in Vitamin A are prepared or eaten with a fat source, more Vitamin A will be accessible and absorbed by the body. Green tea is a good example: Green tea steeped in water is low in beta carotene, but when the whole green leaf is prepared with fat, in a Matcha Latte for example, a lot of beta carotene (a precursor to Vitamin A) is absorbed by the body.
Some of the foods listed below are obscure, but they make the list more complete and accurate.
Meats and Vegetables High in Vitamin A (Avoid)
Cod liver oil
Peppers of all kinds (bell, passilla, ancho, chili etc.)
Natto (fermented soy)
Paprika and pepper spices like cayenne
Brussels sprouts (allowed occasionally)
Beef liver and other organs
Pork liver sausage (liverwurst)
Milk (but see note below)
Grape leaves, raw
Sweet potato, orange (including chips)
Salmon, herring, tuna, sturgeon, clams, mackerel, shrimp, red snapper, trout, crab
Matcha Green Tea
Avocado and unrefined avocado oil
Olives and extra-virgin or unrefined olive oil
Winged bean leaves, raw
Coconut (most coconut products)
Chia (okay, if soaked like this, but high in lectins)
Cinnamon, especially Cassia
Grains to Avoid
Wheat (organic white wheat can be “challenged” later in the diet if desired, especially in sourdough)
Best to avoid all gluten, but get the full list of foods to avoid created by Dr. Garrett Smith N.D. here. (He charges for the list and to become part of his Vitamin A Detox program. But the link allows you access to a free discussion forum. Dr. Smith is an authority on Vitamin A detoxing.)
Other foods to Avoid
Canned fruits and Aspartame (These belong to the group of foods that either contain or get converted to formaldehyde. These foods, therefore, compete for our alcohol and aldehyde dehydrogenase enzymes, which are required for Vitamin A to detoxify.)
Alcohol (The very small amount in certain tinctures should be fine, as long as the steeped herb itself is allowed on the diet.)
Regarding Milk, Cream, Butter, Ghee, Cheeses, Yogurt and Sour Cream
100% grass-fed A2A2 cows grazing in a valley in the middle of pristine mountains (no glyphosate around other than some in rain, sadly) produce cream that, to some degree, aids in the detoxing of Vitamin A. Ruminant animals eat grass and break down chlorophyll into DHA and phytanic acid. We consume them when we eat beef fat and dairy fat. DHA and phytanic acid speed up the enzyme that breaks down Vitamin A in addition to blocking it from receptors.
So while dairy raised on grains and glyphosate is not suitable for a Vitamin A detox, very small amounts of the highest quality A2A2, clean cream is. Grass-fed milk is higher in beta carotene (a precursor to Vitamin A), so milk consumption is not a good idea for a Vitamin A detox. Even the best milk also contains casein and whey, both of which bind to Vitamin A, acting as carriers and transporters. (source and source) Most people detoxing Vitamin A should avoid dairy products other than butter. A2A2 grass-fed ghee from pristine (remote) pastures is also a good option, because it’s free of casein and whey.
Note: White butter (not pasture raised) is often recommended on this diet because it is lower in beta carotene. I am unwilling to support factory grown beef or dairy and grain-fed animal husbandry (although I realize in extreme cases this might be necessary). I would rather eat less butter. I do not recommend white butter. I buy Kerrygold and often use a small amount of water when cooking to reduce my need for lots of butter. I still enjoy about 2 tablespoons of butter daily. Also, as I mention below, the Vitamin K in butter likely cancels out any negative effects from moderate butter intake.
Regarding yogurt, it is out because it is made from milk. Sour cream, especially homemade real probiotic sour cream made from good quality cream, is allowed in small amounts on this diet.
Foods to Avoid, High in Stearic Acid (that increase Vitamin A issues)
This category of foods is very important, but less known, for those doing Vitamin A elimination diets. (source) Stearic acid, unmentioned by most articles on Vitamin A toxicity, is what helped me to see the Vitamin A theory’s relevance in my own health journey. While my recent diet was somewhat low in most Vitamin A foods, I had begun to struggle with new mental health issues that were getting worse.
I realized I had started consuming cocoa butter daily. The day I removed cocoa butter and cocoa from my diet, my healthy brain and thought patterns returned!
Stearic acid may or likely exacerbates Vitamin A issues, especially during initial detox stages. Also watch for it in your supplements.
Cocoa butter and dark chocolate
(Butter) — I put butter in parenthesis because its high levels of Vitamin K seem to cancel out any deleterious effects it would otherwise have. Vitamin K2 is considered key to Vitamin A cleansing, but many Vitamin K supplements are delivered in a high Vitamin A base. Consider butter a good Vitamin K supplement if you can tolerate dairy.
The above foods may affect you more during an initial Vitamin A detox and become tolerable and benign over time (although coconut oil should be refined on the diet).
Foods with No Vitamin A
On a Vitamin A detox diet, it’s important to avoid glyphosate as much as possible, because it hinders the detoxification of Vitamin A. Therefore, go out of your way to buy organic.
Some of the following foods are obscure. I’ve put an * next to my favorite or the more common no-Vitamin A foods. Please let me know if I’ve overlooked a food or made an incorrect inclusion. I believe this list is accurate based on lengthy research, but I may have made a mistake. Listen to your unique body to create a gentle diet for your healing process.
Arrowhead tuber (may contain RS)
*Apple cider vinegar (newly recommended to increase bile production and alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme production)
*Beans, pinto, black, kidney (eat only if you tolerate beans [which I don’t]; soak 24 hours in two changes of plain water, rinse, then cook in Instant Pot)
*Celeriac (celery root)
*Corn, white or blue
Gourd, white flowered calabash
*Hearts of Palm, canned
Kanpyo (dried gourd strips)
Mountain yam, Hawaii
*Mushrooms, not shiitake
Pepeao, dried fungus
*Potatoes (peel them first and no yellow potatoes)
*Sesame: the hulled seed and hulled pure tahini (sesame butter)
Waxgourd (Chinese preserving melon)
Foods with Low or No Vitamin A
(Fennel was recently removed from this list.)
Black Tea, Green tea, Oolong, White Tea
Cucumber, peeled (also remove the seeds to reduce lectins)
Sage, in small amounts
Tapioca (as always, MUST be organic, especially important with tapioca), organic pearls here and organic flour here
Zucchini, peeled (also remove the seeds to reduce lectins)
Peeled fruits: white-fleshed apples and applesauce, white peaches, lemons, limes, pineapple, pomegranate
Other fruits: blackberries, blueberries, cherries, currants, grapes, raspberries, strawberries
Meats: beef, bison, chicken, turkey, wild game, likely rabbit
Seafood: A few kinds of whitefish are low in Vitamin A (retinoids and carotenoids). I occasionally buy fresh west coast Petrale sole.
White rice, especially if eaten with beans (rice can deplete certain B vitamins, which beans have). Genereux allows himself both white and brown rice. Be sure to soak brown rice to reduce phytic acid.)
Other Yes foods: butter, ghee and heavy cream in moderation (I mention these above in the paragraph about dairy.)
Nuts and seeds: Most nuts are okay, but they must be soaked overnight. See how to soak nuts here and seeds here. (As it says above, avoid cashews [which are actually a fruit] and peanuts [legume], as well as flax and chia. It is best to remove the outer husk, after soaking, on nuts like almonds and hazelnuts.
Possible: lotus root
Foods High in Detoxification Enzymes and Low in Vitamin A
Certain produce items not only help to improve our gut microbiome diversity, they also help to usher Vitamin A from our livers. While this diet may seem like a lot of beef and not enough lettuce, add in the following produce items to expedite your detox process and for variety: daikon radishes, peeled white-fleshed apples, peeled lemons and limes, small amounts of plain kombucha (or flavored with VAD-safe foods), green cabbage, rosemary, green tea, black tea, coffee, Ceylon cinnamon, walnuts, pecans, berries, grapes and pomegranate. Update: Dr. Smith has now pulled many of these items from the okay food lists. He no longer recommends cabbage or cinnamon, and I’ve removed many of the other foods that used to be on the above list.
And it’s hard to say enough good things about ginger! Add it to smoothies, stir fries, swallow it minced/grated on a spoon, stir it into water. I enjoy this tincture. (The alcohol base may also assist Vitamin A detoxification.)
PRINTABLE VITAMIN A DETOX DIET GROCERY LIST (updated 11/19)
You can Pin the image below, or print it here.
Prebiotic Foods and Resistant Starch
Dr. Smith has observed that resistant starch (RS) is not beneficial to the detoxification of Vitamin A. He links to studies (here) showing butyrate increases retinoic acid production. As you may remember, butyrate is the short chain fatty acid consumed by T-cells, which in turn increases T-cells and diversifies our colon ecosystem.
I have certainly felt the benefits of whole food-sourced RS myself, especially when I added in cassava flour and tiger nut flour after years on the GAPS diet. I also have clients who report relief and much better bowel movements when RS whole foods are added in. While RS has brought many of us further along on our health journeys, if your latest health goal is a VA detox, it may be ideal to remove RS until you’re past a detox stage. Then consider trying it again with VAD-safe foods, if it worked well in your system formerly, to see if it’s still an asset. Without excess Vitamin A, it may resume its gut and colon benefits.
Also of note, my son’s long time eczema went away very quickly when we added in inulin, a prebiotic. Dr. Smith feels we do not need to feed our gut flora and also states that inulin feeds bad flora. As the Nemechek protocol has shown, inulin can be a powerful way to improve the gut microbiome and skin health. Yet long term, diverse forms of prebiotics are better than a single source, and sometimes we have to take one goal at a time. Dr. Smith recommends no prebiotics on the VA detox diet.
Prebiotic foods: cooked and chilled cassava/yucca root and the flour in any form, tiger nuts in any form and the flour, jicama, chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, apple cider vinegar, raw onions and fermented asparagus. Here’s a fuller list of prebiotic foods that may affect Vitamin A detoxification.
Included in that list, note that cooked and cooled beans have RS. Any beans eaten need to be fresh and hot (or warm). White rice and potatoes also need to be fresh and hot, no leftovers. (There continues to be controversy surrounding how much RS exists in certain reheated foods, like potatoes, so use your best judgment, and observe how your body responds to different foods. Yet it is likely best to avoid reheated RS foods.)
Happily, one food comes out of the resistant starch conversation free to be eaten, and that’s tapioca. Extracted from cassava root, tapioca flour and tapioca pearls do not contain RS. To be more specific about cassava, cassava root belongs to the RS3 category of resistant starch foods. This means cassava gains resistant starch when it’s cooked and cooled. It is possible to eat the whole root cooked and hot or warm and not get any resistant starch. I have not added it to the above Yes foods to avoid confusion, but I do eat it like this.
We buy frozen, raw cassava root at our local Asian grocery store. It is less inflammatory than potatoes and works well for some people as a healthy source of complex carbs. (The flour, in contrast, already contains RS. And tiger nuts, in contrast, have resistant starch even when they’re raw [RS1].)
Regarding my own symptoms and my progress thus far on the diet, ironically I feel hopeful when I read more about the symptoms associated with chronic Hypervitaminosis A:
“The toxicity of Vitamin A (hypervitaminosis A) is manifested in two forms: acute and chronic … Chronic hypervitaminosis A is much more common and insidious. It is generally associated with self-prescribed over-supplementation by humans … Toxicity at the cellular level is manifested by redifferentiation of simple types of epithelium into more complex forms, including mucous epithelium. Accompanying this is decreased cohesion between epithelial cells in the skin. Accordingly, most affected humans report skin changes such as … eczema … double vision … ”
This study goes on to describe more of my symptoms including Vitamin A’s pro-oxidative effects on the lungs and its role in anemia. Other symptoms addressed affect two of my loved ones and include issues with bone density and liver health. (source)
I am just starting out on this diet myself. It has been two months.
I have seen an immediate and lasting improvement in my mood and mental health, a major improvement in my skin, a day or two of “die off” symptoms and significant anti-histamine effects. Urgency (I have a bladder disease that is in remission) returned after two weeks on the diet. That symptom lasted two weeks and is now resolved. (Vitamin A is very closely related to bladder issues because it affects epithelial cells and their tight or loose junctions.) My sight issues (on and off cloudy vision) stayed bad at first and then resolved.
While this diet isn’t for the faint of heart, the improvements are so encouraging and far outweigh the challenges. I can’t imagine not pursuing this path fully now.
Negative symptoms can return during the detoxification of Vitamin A. My N.D. says the body revisits old illnesses as it heals itself. Also Vitamin A can cause issues as it detoxes from the liver. I experienced decreased immunity on my skin starting at the six week point, which Grant has commented can be a “more tox” stage for the body. I got a staph kidney infection as a result. I used allicin, tea tree oil (here’s how), colloidal silver and goldenseal to combat it and avoid antibiotics. In retrospect, colloidal silver was the most effective and best fit for a low vitamin A diet.
Even my onerous symptoms encourage me and bait my curiosity — that this diet is affecting my issues and perhaps allowing my body to heal at a deeper level!
VAD Diet NOT Working?
If someone believes in this diet and its potential but sees no personal benefits after trying it, here are few questions to ask:
- Have you had your food intolerance evaluation done? You could be eating a food your body can’t digest genetically. I discuss this at length here. I ask all my clients to get this evaluation done so we can build their diet with this foundational information. (I do not benefit in any way from you reaching out to Dr. Zeff [here] to get his kit in the mail. There aren’t very many doctors who do this evaluation, but there are a handful.)
- Have you assessed your mental health? Although more subtle, this is where some people see their main benefit. The brain may be healing itself before other body issues are addressed.
- Are there other foods you’re eating that are NOT gentle: THINK grains, like rice. Think too many nuts or seeds. There are several foods allowed on the VAD diet that are inflammatory. Consider combining the VAD with another wellness diet like GAPS, AIP etc. I am reachable here for support if you need help building a combo diet. Or ask me quick questions below in the Comments section.
Are you considering a Vitamin A detox? I’d love to hear your experience. What are your favorite detox diet recipes?
Here are a few low Vitamin A recipes to get you started:
- Pan-Fried Parsnips
- Lettuce Wrapped Burgers (Just omit the sauces and tomatoes etc; instead, keep it simple: Use Dijon mustard and sautéed mushrooms!)
- Tapioca Floats! (For the toppings, be sure to stick to VAD diet ingredients like tea, coffee and/or a little maple syrup or heavy cream!)
Also, follow Grant Genereux’s blog here to be a part of the discussion.