Physiologic indicators of vitamin A status

Nathan G. Congdon, Keith P. West

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Physiologic indicators reflect the functional consequences of vitamin A deficiency and may be particularly useful for detecting early perturbations in vitamin A status. In conjunctival impression cytology (CIC), epithelial morphology and the presence or absence of mucin spots and goblet cells allow samples, obtained by applying filter paper to the temporal conjunctiva, to be characterized as normal or typical of vitamin A-deficient keratinizing metaplasia. The validity of CIC has been established with reference to other indicators of vitamin A status, and a prevalence of ≥20% abnormal results has been suggested as indicative of a public health problem. However, interpretation of specimens requires considerable training, and nonresponsiveness to supplementation is a frequent problem, which limits the utility of CIC as a method for evaluating the impact of intervention programs. Several simplified field protocols for dark adaptation have been developed, including one in which dark adaptation is assessed by the responsiveness of the pupil to light. Night blind subjects have consistently shown abnormal results on this test, and a significant response to placebo-controlled dosing has been demonstrated for children and pregnant women. Scores have correlated significantly with serum retinol and relative dose response. Pupillary dark adaptation testing is acceptable to most children as young as 2 y old. Limitations of this technique include a time course for recovery after dosing as long as 4-6 wk, a testing time of 20 min, and the need for 1-3 d of training. Given its low cost, noninvasive nature, and lack of the need to transport samples, pupillary dark adaptation offers advantages over other techniques for assessing a population's vitamin A status.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2889S-2894S
JournalJournal of Nutrition
Issue number9 SUPPL.
StatePublished - Sep 2002


  • Conjunctival impression cytology
  • Dark adaptation
  • Physiologic indicator
  • Pupil
  • Vitamin A

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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