Vitamin D supplement benefit and risk – side effects from too much, toxicity, and how to reverse deficiency, safety issues
March 1 2016
Vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium necessary for developing and maintaining healthy teeth and bones. It is also important to nerve cells, including the brain, and seems to act as a regulator of the immune system. The body makes it after being exposed to sunlight. Not many foods are naturally rich in vitamin D but it is found in fatty fish such as salmon and milk commonly is fortified with it. You can find it in an excellent doctor-formulated multivitamin product.
Deficiency and how to reverse this process
Deficiency may be a common but unrecognized problem among U.S. adolescents. Researchers found that among 11- to 18-year-olds living in Boston, nearly one-quarter were deficient in vitamin D, a nutrient that aids in calcium absorption and is vital for healthy bone development. To learn more about the difference between calcitriol and and vitamin D3 known as cholecalciferol.
The problem is preventable with an adequate diet and time outdoors. The body naturally synthesizes vitamin D when the skin is exposed to the sun, and milk and certain other foods, including many breakfast cereals, are fortified with the vitamin. But U.S. children increasingly fill up on soft drinks at the expense of milk, and spend more time in front of the TV or computer than outdoors.
Cause of deficiency
Soft drink, juice and iced tea intake are related to a greater risk of vitamin D deficiency. On the other hand, adolescents who drink milk and eat cereal are less likely to be low.
A high proportion of pregnant women living in the northern United States, and their newborns, have insufficient vitamin D levels, and taking prenatal vitamins may not increase vitamin D levels adequately. A large percentage of African-American women and nearly half of white women tested at delivery had levels of vitamin D that were too low, even though more than 90 percent of them used prenatal vitamins during pregnancy.
Children and adolescents
Most US kids aren’t getting enough vitamin D, raising their risk of weak bones and, possibly heart disease.
What about too much Vitamin D and side effects? What are the risks?
Too much can lead to vitamin D side effects such as nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, weakness, and weight loss. Excessive amounts can raise blood levels of calcium, causing mental status changes such as confusion. High blood levels of calcium, known as hypercalcemia, can cause heart rhythm abnormalities. Calcinosis, the deposition of calcium and phosphate in soft tissues like the kidney can be caused by too much vitamin D.
Too much vitamin D and calcium intake has another potential side effect. It can lead to an increase in total brain lesion volume. Dr. Martha E. Payne of Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, believes too much vitaman D and calcium may lead to vascular calcification, since calcium is taken up into the blood vessel walls. Dr. Martha E. Payne evaluated calcium and vitamin D intakes by food frequency questionnaires and MRI scans in 232 elderly men and women (average age, 71 years). All of the subjects displayed some brain lesions of varying sizes but those reporting the highest intakes of calcium and vitamin D were more likely to have higher total volume of brain lesions. Dr. Payne is concerned that too much calcium either through food or supplements may end up in the blood vessel walls rather than the bone. She reported the study findings at a meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, part of Experimental Biology in May, 2007 in Washington, DC.
I attended the Vitamin D seminar in Toronto, Ontario in November 2009 and Dr. Charles Gant MD, Ph.D. told us that 2000 IU daily will prevent 75% of breast cancers. He also says it will be a long time before it gets into the mainstream because there will be too much loss of money by pharmaceutical companies and the oncologists. Dr. Joe Prendergast of California, gives his diabetic patients 50,000 IU daily and takes that himself. My own orthomolecular physician tells me he has a hard time getting his MS patients up to a normal level with 50,000 IU daily.
You may wish to ask Dr. Charles Gant MD, and Dr. Joe Prendergast whether they can guarantee that prescribing these massive dosages for several decades will not lead to calcification of blood vessels throughout the body and heart and the small arteries that supply blood to the sinus node and atrial node that regulate heart rhythm and these high dosages will not cause calcification of blood vessels in the brain leading to early dementia.
Toxic ingestion symptoms
Nutrition guru Gary Null, aged 65 years, says in a lawsuit he suffered “mentally and physically” after eating his Gary Null’s Ultimate Power Meal. Over the course of a month he suffered “excruciating fatigue along with bodily pain,” and “began to suffer from extreme cracks and bleeding from within his feet.” Mr. Null blames a contractor that mixed the powder. Tests showed he had elevated levels of Vitamin D in his body. Apparently the Ultimate Power Meal had 1,000 times the amount of Vitamin D than the label claimed. Instead of ingesting 2,000 IU of Vitamin D daily, he was ingesting 2 million IU. He fasted and drank a lot of water and it took three months to get his blood seemingly back to where he was able to function. Even now, he says his condition is questionable, as he continues to occasionally urinate blood. While he was recuperating, “six consumers were hospitalized with severe kidney damage, and Null, in the midst of all this, while he was suffering in bed, had dozens of his customers calling him, along with condemning and threatening him,” the suit says. The suit says New Jersey company Triarco was responsible for mixing the Vitamin D for the product, which has since been recalled and that Triarco should have tested the final product.
I have asthma and allergies and adrenal cortisone insufficiency, probably induced by the Flovent drug I take. When it was prescribed, they apparently did not know that any dose over 800 mcg daily would suppress the adrenal output of cortisone, but it was learned later that was the case. I was taking about 1150 mcg daily and developed adrenal insufficiency. My endocrinologist prescribed 20 mg of hydrocortisone daily, but later suggested I reduce that when more recent research indicated that was a high dose. Flovent has a high bioavailability and readily enters the blood stream from the lungs. My vitamin D levels were also low and nobody knew why. I continued to take low levels of vitamin D (400 IU daily) for a long time per the endocrinologist’s recommendation, but in time I realized that something was wrong because the measurements were always low in the blood. So, I raised it and that brought up the vitamin D levels in the blood. So, I raised it again. Eventually I was taking about 8000 IU daily and that brought the vitamin D levels in the blood to just above 30. At about the same time I raised the vitamin D levels, I developed reactive hypoglycemia. My endocrinologist at that time recommended that I reduce the dose of hydrocortisone to 15 mg daily, though I found that I could not do so because my asthma and allergies became severely exacerbated, so I settled at 17.5 mg daily, which I was barely able to tolerate. I later raised the vitamin D levels to 12,000 IU daily and found that I did much better with that because it somehow reduced the asthma and allergies and seemed to reduce the reactive hypoglycemia to some extent. The blood level of vitamin D was 64. About the same time as the reactive hypoglycemia developed, I develop ocular hypertension. Whether that is connected, nobody knows. When the new drug Alvesco recently became available, I began to experiment with it. That drug has a very poor absorbability into the blood stream from the lungs, so reduces the amount of glucocorticoids in the blood stream. That had a positive effect on the reactive hypoglycemia AND what is interesting is that I discovered that it had an effect on the absorption of vitamin D. I found that I had to reduce the vitamin D intake or I had problems. At the last measurement, I had a blood level of vitamin D of 59 but was taking only 9000 IU daily. The end result was that when I reduced the glucocorticoids in the blood stream, I found that I absorbed vitamin D better and blood measurements seemed to confirm this. I don’t find Alvesco as effective as the Flovent but it does work.
Body fat influence
Among a group of 90 young women living in sunny southern California, those with insufficient levels of vitamin D were significantly heavier and had greater body mass than their counterparts with sufficient levels of vitamin D. Dr. Vicente Gilsanz, of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles thinks obesity is influenced by vitamin D insufficiency. Vitamin D insufficiency is common in young women living even in sun-rich area of the United States. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2009.
Getting plenty of vitamin D can help prevent falls among people living in nursing homes.
Taking 1,000 to 2,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D each day may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, according to pooled data from published studies. The current findings contradict some prior individual studies that found that vitamin D intake did not seem to protect against colorectal cancer. However, it is possible that the dose may simply have been too low to provide a benefit. The present analysis, reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, included data from five studies that looked at the association between blood levels of 25-hydroxy-vitamin D, which provides a good estimate of vitamin D levels in the body, and colorectal cancer risk. Dr. Edward D. Gorham, from the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego, California, and colleagues found that as blood levels of vitamin D rose, the risk of colorectal cancer fell. Risk was reduced by 54 percent in groups with the highest vitamin D levels relative to those with the lowest levels. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2007.
Role in heart disease and stroke
Dr. Annamari Kilkkinen, at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, Finland, compared blood levels of vitamin D and deaths from heart disease or stroke over time in 2,817 men and 3,402 women in Finland. At enrollment, participants were just over 49 years old on average. During follow-up of about 27 years on average, 640 of the participants (358 men) died from heart disease and another 293 (122 men) died from stroke. Compared with participants’ with the highest vitamin D, those with the lowest had 25 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease or stroke. Having the lowest vitamin D seemed to confer “twice the risk,” compared with having the highest vitamin D. In this study, vitamin D levels were “substantially lower” than levels thought to be sufficient, and “somewhat lower” than those reported in previous studies in other European and American populations. However, there is no “absolute consensus” as to what the optimal range of vitamin D should be, says Dr. Annamari Kilkkinen. Also, it’s not known whether low vitamin D actually causes increased risk for heart disease or stroke. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2009.
People with a low level of vitamin D in the blood have poorly functioning insulin-producing cells and show a poor response to insulin, even when their blood sugar levels are normal.
Recommended daily dosage
The recommended daily intake of vitamin D is 200 iu for adults younger than 50 years and 600 iu for those older than 70 years. Vitamin D supplementation is especially important in elderly persons because skin synthesis and absorption of vitamin D may be impaired.
Vitamin D3 appears to be helpful in several diseases, including multiple sclerosis. High doses of vitamin D may be required for therapeutic efficacy. Patients with mulptle sclerosis can take enough vitamin D to double their blood levels of vitamin D without the concern of causing hypercalcemia or hypercalciuria.
Taking a Vitamin D supplement may reduce your risk for fatal pancreatic cancer. Vitamin D has shown strong potential for preventing and treating several types of cancer. Regions with greater sunlight exposure have lower incidence and mortality for prostate, breast, and colon cancers. Harvard University researchers examined data from two large, long-term health surveys involving 46,771 men between 40 and 75 years old and 75,427 women between 38 and 65. They found that people who took Vitamin D, 400 IU a day had a 40 percent lower risk of pancreatic cancer. Those who took doses of less than 150 IU per day had a 22 percent reduced risk of cancer. Taking more than 400 IU a day did not reduce the risk further.
Most multivitamins include vitamin D usually at 100 to 400 units. You could consider getting more sun exposure or taking an additional vitamin D supplement. A supplement of 200 to 600 units a day is sufficient for most people.
Email received in 2013: I googled 5000 mg Vitamin D, and looked at your webpage. I’m wondering if I have found a new use for it. I have been taking 1000 mg for about a year now, and when I was running low, I accidentally purchased 5000 mg Vitamin D. I’ve been taking it for about 2 months now, and have noticed a particular “side effect”. My skin normally burns when exposed to the sun, and then peels off, leaving me little or no color. However, since I’ve been on the 5000 mg, when I have been in the sun, I do burn, but with no pain or heat felt in my skin. And that burn, becomes brown in just a couple of days, and no peeling. I haven’t put any moisturizers/sunscreens on my skin, and I still get the same result. This has happened three times now. I haven’t done or taken anything else that could be attributed to this awesome (in my opinion!) phenomenon.
Vitamin D supplement decreases mortality
Dr. Philippe Autier, International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, and Dr. Sara Gandini, from the European Institute of Oncology in Milan, Italy, reviewed 18 existing studies on the role of vitamin D use on longevity and found vitamin D ingestion reduced mortality by any cause by 7 percent. “Based on the total body of evidence of health conditions associated with vitamin D deficiency, abetted with the results from this meta-analysis, a more proactive attitude to identify, prevent, and treat vitamin D deficiency should be part of standard medical care,” Dr. Edward Giovannucci, from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, writes in a related editorial. Archives Intern Med 2007;167:1730-1737,1709-1710.
Dr. John Cannell of the vitamin D council says that vitamin A blocks the absorption of vitamin D3 and that supplementation with A is unnecessary and even detrimental for that reason. If that information is accurate would taking the vitamin A (in carotene forms) separately from the vitamin D3 be OK?
Few people need to supplement with vitamin A. Most multivitamin products contain both. For practical purposes we don’t think it is an issue taking a multivitamin supplement in terms of vitamin D absorption. We don’t think there is a need to take a vitamin A supplement by itself. If beta carotene is considered to be taken as a supplement, it is preferable to consider a carotenoid complex that includes a number of different carotenoids.
I have sleep Apnea, Type 2 Diabetes, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and a whole host of other health problems. the doctor wants me to take 3,000 i.u. of Vitamin D. Is that too much for me to take? I just don’t want any other additional health problems.
Different doctors have different opinions regarding the ideal dosage of vitamin D supplementation. We prefer to stay on the cautious side and limit the maximum use to 1000 to 2000 units a day.
Q. I have two inherited bleeding disorders, von Willebrand disease, type I, and a Factor V deficiency, diagnosed 22 and 16 years ago. I have had trouble maintaining my vitamin D levels. I live in the Midwest. I have allergies to diary and also have asthma, for which I take a steroid nose spray and QVAR inhaler daily. I take a bone building medication to strengthen my bones, Didronel, 400 mg. for 14 days every 3 months. I have had 6 fractures in the past 18 years and nine altogether. My vitamin D level has been as low as 4 and as high as 43. Currently it is 16, having dropped from 28 this past March. It has dropped from 43 a year ago. Under doctor’s orders (an endocrinologist) when I take vitamin D supplements, food rich in vitamin D, and Rice Dream, fortified with vitamin D in moderation, but consistently, I tend to bleed more from my nose, gums, and into my skin. At times, I have developed severe itching after taking cod liver oil. When I scratch, my skin becomes irritated and bleeds more. I have been on liquid vitamin D capsules also, but I develop capillary breakage in my legs, and my thighs and calves become as purple as a plum. When I stop the vitamin D, all symptoms vanish. In the past, I have managed well with Caltrate+D in the 200 I.U. version, chewing two tablets daily. However, that product was removed from the market, to increase the amount of vitamin D. Now, those tablets have 600 I.U. which causes me to get severe headaches, back pain, bleeding from my nose and gums, and stomach pain. Even if I take half a tablet, I get increased bleeding. I also used to take Myadec for 30 years. It had 400 I.U. or 100% of vitamin D . But the Myadec was taken off the market. I have contacted the company to see if I can get the original formula but to no avail. My coagulation specialist is baffled by my response to increasing my vitamin D levels. I eat green vegetables daily, especially leafy green spinach. When I eat salmon, shrimp, tuna, or cod three times a week, my bleeding symptoms increase. I traveled to California to get some sunshine, but my vitamin D levels did not increase significantly. As I have gotten older, I have found my levels of vitamin D have been decreasing. I have been post-menopausal for twelve years, having had early, natural menopause. I am fair-skinned and have considered vertical tanning bed treatments to increase my vitamin D levels but my brother has skin cancer and I fear getting it too.
I received word from a reputable PhD that high doses of D3 would not be problematic, so i began a series of serum tests for Vit D 25OH because i have osteoporosis at 67 years. My starting level was 33 with 2000IU of D3. I am at 8000IU and my level jumped to 46. I just increase to 10,000IU to see what happens. No sunbathing of significance as yet. My endocrinologist thinks my body has a difficulty with Vit D so requires more. My Bone mass has leveled out and started increasing. It’s likely most people have a serious Vit D deficiency. Interestingly, high Vit A levels caused NTX ratio to skyrocket to 98, so I had to reduce dosage to 10000IU per day, and the level came down to 33. Apparently, one must bioengineer dosages and keep a careful watch for reactions on key parameters. I do this on my own as a former electrical engineer, but God help the masses untrained and careless in these things. Most Doctors in general haven’t a clue about these factors and couldn’t care less.
I am an elderly female. I have Fibromyalgia / CFS / Lyme Disease w/parallel infections. I had very low Vitamin D level 16 and Dr. had me take 3000-4000 Iu per day. After several weeks my pain levels increased significantly. Maybe Vit. D is an immune modulator and perhaps started producing a kill-off of the infections of the Lyme disease. I lowered the dose and gradually the increased pain leveled off again. The incident however prompted me to look for another CFS / FM MD who subsequently tested for and diagnosed the Lyme disease and, yes, I am now on antibacterials / antiparisitic / antitviral meds plus additional supplements, homeopathics to try to strengthen and support my immune system and vital organs.