Vitamin D: Dangers In High Doses

by Ray Sahelian, M.D. raysahelian.com (10/09) Let The Sun Shine In     

Vitamin D plays an important role in calcium balance and for optimal skeletal growth and bone strength. The major function of vitamin D is to improve the efficiency of calcium absorption from the small intestine. Epidemiological data show low levels of vitamin D lead to a higher incidence of breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, as well as multiple myeloma. Patients with Crohn's disease are known to have low levels. Vitamin D supplementation may even decrease symptoms of depression during the winter months.

Few people now question the importance of this vitamin, and with the benefits being touted in the media many consumers, and doctors, now think that the more they take the healthier they will be. I want to caution you of the danger regarding excessive intake. Vitamin D taken in high amounts can cause excessive calcification of bone, calcification of soft tissue, kidney stones, headaches, weakness, nausea, and vomiting.

Are There Currently Unknown Long Term Effects Of High Dose Daily Use?

Bottom line: Some people may not need to supplement since their diet includes plenty of the vitamin and they get a lot of sun exposure. Most people may benefit from taking 400 units a day either as a pill or as part of their multivitamin product (in addition to their diet and some sun exposure which could be several hundred units a day). A few people -- those who do not consume much of this vitamin in their diet, live in Northern latitudes, or some elderly who get little sun -- may benefit from taking 600 to 800 units daily. More is needed in the winter season and less in the summer season. Those who have hardly any sun exposure, or have certain chronic medical conditions, may temporary need 1000 to 3000 units a day for a few weeks or months and then back to 600 to 1000 units daily. I do not think that the average person with a good diet and some regular sun exposure needs to take more than 400 to 600 units a day as a supplement. I have received emails from some doctors who claim I am being too cautious. I would rather err on the side of taking less until long term studies are published regarding the safety of supplementing with 1000 units or more taken daily for a decade or longer. If such studies do get published in the next few years and show the safety of such high dose supplementation, I will change my recommendations. At this time I certainly do not think the 2000 and 5000 unit pills being promoted are appropriate for the vast majority of the population. Could people taking these high dosages end up dying sooner due to excessive calcification of their blood vessels and soft tissues? There is some early indication that high dosages of vitamin D could cause calcification of vessels in the brain leading to cognitive decline. Could taking high doses of calcium along with these excessive doses of vitamin D make matters even worse?

Do You Recommend People Being Tested For Vitamin D Levels Before Taking a Supplement?

Unless a person has an unusual diet or a chronic health condition that could lead to severe vitamin D deficiency, I don't think testing is necessary. There are hundreds of blood tests available to check levels of different vitamins, minerals, amino acids, hormones, cholesterol, various lipids, inflammation markers, liver studies, kidney studies, etc., etc.. At some point one has to balance the costs and inconvenience of testing versus the potential benefits they provide. Unless a person has an unusual medical condition or diet where blood vitamin D levels are suspected to be too low or too high, blood testing does not give us much of a clue on exactly how much to supplement. I am cost conscious and practical in my approach. I think in this country we are going overboard in terms of testing, and for the amount of money we spend on diagnostic testing and health care we are not even close to being one of the healthiest nations on the planet. We do so many diagnostic tests in this country without knowing whether people are actually healthier or live longer as a result of the testing. The people who end up being better off are doctors and the those who own the labs. I think if the vast majority of people who don't have an unusual diet or serious and chronic medical condition just take 400 to 800 units a day they should be fine and they don't have to worry about checking for vitamin D levels.

As with many natural vitamins and supplements too low a dosage can be detrimental to health and too high an intake can have adverse effects. see http://www.raysahelian.com/vitamind.html

Too Much Of A Good Thing (A Readers Experience to Dr. Sahelian)

I wanted to share with you my experience with taking some high doses of Vitamin D3 along with a small dose of Vitamin K2. I am a 50 year old female. I will say that before I went to the doctor, I was having some major symptoms for a couple months or more which included depression, much more than normal, extreme fatigue--I have been actively working around 45 hours per week or more at times without any significant problems except some stress until a few months ago when I started having extreme fatigue for unknown reasons to the point I was getting to where I didn't feel like going to work, to church or much of anywhere. I also for a few months starting having more joint and body pain and for the first time ever, my bones were hurting pretty significantly. Anyway, I went to the doctor a few weeks ago and they told me I had a Vitamin D deficiency. My Vitamin D level was 21. I bought some and immediately took 15,000 IU the first day, then the second day around 12,000 IU, then after that I cut back to 10,000 IU per day. Within just 3 or 4 days after starting the Vitamin D3 & K2, my bones and joints pretty much stopped hurting and the depression started almost immediately getting better and is now gone.

But after about a week of taking the large doses, I started experiencing nausea, pain in my left lower side, diarrhea, ringing in my ears and insomnia. I lowered my Vitamin D3 dose to rotating between 5000 IU one day, then the next day 10,000 IU but still experienced the problems then decided to go to the doctor (this was a different doctor than where I originally got my blood work as I was trying to find a doctor who practiced natural alternative medicine)I took my blood work to him and even though I told him that ever since I started the Vitamin D that I was feeling nauseated and having stomach problems, he told that my Vitamin D was very deficient and told me that the Vitamin D at that dose should not be causing any problems and that I need to take 10,000 IU of Vitamin D3 and the Vitamin K2 every day. So he basically just ignored all the symptoms. So I followed his advice and now the stomach pains and diarrhea have gotten much worse (extreme) and now I have a host of other symptom s-- I get chest pains now at taking high doses, feel anxious, my eyes feel like they are infected and my vision is more blurry.

Though I do really believe that my Vitamin D levels were deficient from the symptoms I mentioned earlier, I am ceasing all forms of Vitamin D until my body recovers from the toxicity. I apologize for this long letter but I wanted you and anyone else that this might help to know what the dangers of taking too much Vitamin D are for some people who obviously cannot tolerate these large doses. I will also not be going back to this doctor and from now on I will listen to what my body is telling me instead of what the doctor tells me when it comes to the toxicity symptoms I have experienced.

A popular and respected physician and medical writer, Dr. Sahelian is internationally recognized as a moderate voice in the evaluation of natural supplements. In his books, articles, and website, he discusses both the benefits and risks of these supplements. Dr. Sahelian is in private practice in Los Angeles, CA. He writes articles for several health magazines and has a popular and widely read newsletter called Supplement Research Update. He also offers his consulting and formulating services to medical and nutritional companies. Dr. Sahelian is the bestselling author of Mind Boosters, The Stevia Cookbook, and Natural Sex Boosters.  

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Tanning & Natural Health News is a publication of Tan Plus /Essentials Of Life, Barclay Square, 350 Route 108, Somersworth, NH. This publication is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be presented as medical advice. Product statements made have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration.

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