Are You Putting Yourself at Risk for Vitamin Poisoning?

By Danielle Pastula

You may think you’re helping to close the gap between your diet and your necessary daily values, or you may be looking to boost your immune system, energy, or hair growth. There are plenty of reasons why we take vitamins, and some are 100 percent valid, but thanks to effective marketing and an increase in health-conscious behavior, much of our society’s vitamin intake is unnecessary and can lead to a variety of issues, namely vitamin poisoning.

What is vitamin poisoning?

Vitamin toxicity, overdose, poisoning, hypervitaminosis — these are all terms you’ll hear associated with abnormally high levels of vitamin storage in the body.

According to reports from the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System, nearly 60,000 cases of vitamin toxicity are reported to U.S. poison control centers annually.

Vitamin toxicity typically occurs with fat- soluble vitamins such as vitamins D, E, K and A. This is because the body stores these vitamins for longer periods of time in the liver and the fatty tissues of the body, whereas water-soluble vitamins cannot be stored by the body for later use.

How do you get vitamin poisoning?

Vitamin poisoning typically occurs from high supplement intake, not solely from dietary consumption. However, in recent decades, many common foods on grocery store shelves have been fortified with additional vitamins and minerals to aid public health.

According to an annual journal of food and nutrition research published by the National Institutes of Health, “Historically, food fortification, such as iodized salt or vitamin D-fortified milk, served as a public health measure to address population-wide nutrient deficiencies. By means of restoring nutrients removed during food processing or replacing nutrients in substitute foods, today’s food fortification comprises several initiatives, where foods must meet not only consumer needs and preferences but also comply with nutritional, regulatory, food safety and technical constraints.”

While some of these fortifications are beneficial, other items including breakfast cereal, energy bars and drinks, and enriched pasta can be additional sources of vitamin intake that are largely unnecessary for the greater health of the public and potentially harmful, especially when paired with a daily multivitamin and other synthetic vitamin supplements.

What are some of the symptoms of vitamin poisoning?

In an article written by Mark Rosenbloom, M.D., MBA, who is the Chief Medical Officer at LIFEFORCE Medical Institute in Chicago, symptoms of vitamin poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and rash, and they are common with any acute or chronic vitamin overdose.

So, does this mean I shouldn’t take vitamins?

Essentially, the answer is a toss-up. If you’re someone who eats a healthy diet filled with high- nutrient whole foods and you don’t have any health ailments, you shouldn’t need to take additional vitamin supplements.

According to Barbara Schneeman, Ph.D., Director of the FDA’s Office of Nutritional Products, Labeling, and Dietary Supplements, which publishes the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, “The Guidelines emphasize that supplements may be useful when they fill a specific identified nutrient gap that cannot or is not otherwise being met by the individual’s intake of food.”

She added, “An important point made in the guidelines is that nutrient supplements are not a substitute for a healthful diet.”

No matter what your diet consists of, all the information surrounding vitamin toxicity and fortification indicates that your best bet is to consult with your physician or a nutritionist. They’ll be able to analyze your diet and perform any tests necessary to see what your body needs more of, if it needs anything additional at all.

Some specific symptoms include:

Vitamin A: Nausea, vomiting, anorexia, irritability, drowsiness, altered mental status, abdominal pain, blurred vision, headache, muscle pain, weakness and seizures.

Vitamin D: Muscle weakness, apathy, headache, anorexia, irritability, nausea, vomiting and bone pain.

Vitamin E: Nausea, gastric distress, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, headache, fatigue and muscle weakness.

Vitamin C: Diarrhea, nausea, dental decalcification and occult rectal bleeding.

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