A popular dietary supplement almost killed a man: he took it on the recommendation of a doctor
A British man overdosed on vitamin D and nearly died. This is a word of caution to people who are considering adding nutritional supplements to their lives. CNN.
After a visit to a private nutritionist, the man began taking more than 20 over-the-counter supplements daily, including 50 international units (IU) of vitamin D three times a day. This dose is hundreds of times higher than standard nutritional recommendations.
Within a month, the man began to suffer from nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea and repeated bouts of vomiting, as well as leg cramps and ringing in the ears.
The man, whose name has not been released, heard about the nutritional supplements from a radio talk show and subsequently contacted a nutritionist on the show, said Dr. Alameen Alkundi, report co-author and endocrinologist at William Harvey Hospital in East Kent who treated the man.
“Registration by the regulatory body is not mandatory for dietitians in the UK and their title is not protected so anyone can work as a dietitian,” Alkundi said in an email.
Unlike water-soluble vitamins, which can be easily eliminated by the body, vitamin D and its relatives A, E, and K are stored in the liver and fat cells until needed. Consuming much more than the recommended daily dose can lead to toxicity.
The man was taking a daily dose of 150 IU of vitamin D, which was “000 times the recommended dose,” Alkundi said. The UK National Health Service generally recommends 375 IU of vitamin D per day for children over 400 year of age and adults.
The man stopped taking the supplements when he developed symptoms, but his condition did not improve. By the time he was admitted to the hospital two months later, he had lost 12,7 kg and was suffering from kidney problems. Tests showed that he had an overdose of vitamin D, a condition called hypervitaminosis D.
Daily recommended levels
The body needs vitamin D. The main task of the vitamin is to help the body absorb calcium from the intestines. In fact, the body cannot absorb calcium without vitamin D. The vitamin also plays a role in maintaining immunity, brain cell activity, and muscle function.
According to the US National Institutes of Health, in the United States, 69 mcg or 15 IU of vitamin D per day is recommended for adults under 600 years of age. For adults aged 70 and over, the dose is increased to 20 mcg or 800 IU each day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently doubled the recommended amount for infants, children, and teens to 10 mcg, or 400 IU, per day.
A 2017 study found that 3% of Americans were taking more than the legal upper limit of 4000 IU per day for adults, thereby putting themselves at risk of toxicity. About 18% were taking more than 1000 IU per day.
Too much vitamin D in the blood leads to hypercalcemia, which occurs when calcium levels in the blood are higher than normal. The man has been diagnosed with hypercalcemia, which can weaken your bones, create kidney stones, and affect your heart and brain.
The man was hospitalized for eight days and treated with drugs to lower blood calcium levels. A follow-up two months later showed that his blood calcium levels had fallen almost to normal. While the man's vitamin D levels also improved significantly, Alkundi said, they were still high.
“A plan was developed to periodically monitor both parameters in the clinic to track their decline to normal levels. He reported that he feels much better, but still has not returned to his normal state,” Alkundi said.
“He really wants his story to be known to warn others,” Alkundi added.
Signs of a vitamin D overdose can include drowsiness, confusion, lethargy, and depression, and in more severe cases, it can lead to coma. The heart may be affected: blood pressure may rise and the heart may begin to beat erratically. In severe cases, there may be kidney failure. Hearing and vision may be affected.
Where to get vitamin D
The body produces enough vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight. In fact, going outside in a bathing suit for 10 to 15 minutes in the summer "produces 10 to 000 IU of vitamin D20 in adults with fair skin pigmentation," according to the AAP.
However, going out into bright midday sunlight is not recommended due to the risk of skin cancer, which is why dermatologists and the AAP say it's best to use sunscreen if you'll be exposed for a long period of time. Sunscreens can reduce the body's ability to process vitamin D.
According to the AAP, many children and teens may not need vitamin D supplements because many foods such as milk, eggs, cereal, and orange juice are often fortified with vitamin D. Breastfed babies should be given 400 IU of vitamin D per day. The AAP recommends starting early in life and continuing until the baby is weaned from milk or vitamin D-fortified formula.
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Experts warn that if vitamin D supplements are being considered, the decision should consider daily levels of vitamin D from food. In addition to fortified foods, vitamin D is found in eggs, cheese, shiitake mushrooms, salmon, swordfish, tuna, rainbow trout and beef liver, as well as cod liver oil.
Experts say anyone concerned about vitamin D levels should see a doctor.
“Patients are encouraged to seek the opinion of their GPs regarding any alternative therapy or over-the-counter medications they may be taking or want to start taking,” Alkundi said.
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