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  • Writer's pictureBeth Kitchin PhD RDN

Death by Vitamin D?


Here's what we talked about this past week on Good Day Alabama:


Too much vitamin D can be dangerous, but can it kill you? Last week’s health headlines would have you think so, and while they weren’t far off, we need to put this story into perspective.

 

According to several news outlets’ headlines, an 89-year-old man in England died from taking excessive vitamin D supplements. Excess vitamin D can cause too much calcium to be absorbed, pushing blood levels to toxicity. While vitamin D toxicity was listed as a cause of death, so were congestive heart failure, heart disease, and chronic kidney disease. The high blood levels of calcium from the vitamin D supplements could have contributed to those other causes of death.  While we don’t know for sure how much of a factor vitamin D toxicity played in his death, we do know that you can reach toxicity by overdoing supplements. It can be dangerous and deadly. 


You can read one of the news articles about this case here: Man Dies from Too Much Vitamin D

 

We’ve seen variations on this story before. In July of 2022, a middle-aged man’s doctor referred him to the hospital for nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and a slew of other symptoms. As it turned out, the man had been taking a variety of vitamin supplements including 150,000 IU’s (International Units) of vitamin D a day. That’s over 150 times the recommended level to maintain healthy blood levels.


Why is too much vitamin D potentially dangerous and deadly? Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin so it can build up in the body. If you get too much, it can increase blood calcium to dangerously high levels and cause damage to the body. But vitamin D does a lot of important things for you. Its most well-known role is helping you absorb calcium, helping to keep your bones strong. It also plays a role in blood clotting and controlling blood pressure. The key is to get the right amount of calcium.

 

How much do you need and where can you get it? You’ll see vitamin D needs expressed in two units of measure: IU’s (International Units) and mcg (micrograms).

 

Here’s how much vitamin D you need: Daily Need:

o   600 IU’s (15 mcg) for ages 1 to 69

o   800 IU’s (20 mcg) for ages 70 and older

Upper Limit:

o   4000 IU’s (100 mcg) a day (this could lead to toxicity but not immediately – but over many months)

 

These numbers are for people whose blood levels of vitamin D are in the healthy range. If you are deficient, your doctor may have you take 4000 – 5000 IU's a day for a few months until your blood levels are normal. While that may sound like a lot, it is safe under a doctor’s supervision - and for the short term of a few months.

 

How Can You Get Your Vitamin D?

 

The Sun: You can get vitamin D from sun exposure (without sunscreen). You would need to go out in the sun twice a week with arms and face exposed for 5-30 minutes without sunscreen. If you have darker skin, you don’t make as much vitamin D because the melanin in your skin acts like a natural sunscreen. If you’re older, you may not make as much in the skin either. As we get older, our skin thins and isn’t able to make as much from the sun. You may have a tan, but that doesn’t mean you are making vitamin D. Dermatologists do not recommend going out in the sun without sunscreen because of the risk of skin cancer and I agree. Sun-bathing also causes wrinkles so I slather on the sunscreen any time I’m going out in the sun! So, what about other sources of vitamin D?

 

Foods Sources of Vitamin D: Some foods like cod liver oil and some fatty fish are high in vitamin D. Other foods like UV light exposed mushrooms are good sources. Fortified drinks like vitamin D added milk and some orange juices have some vitamin D. But it’s hard to get all the vitamin D you need from foods. If you're So, we often recommend a vitamin D supplement to make sure you’re getting enough. The best way to see if you are getting enough vitamin D, is to get a blood test. Vitamin D is not a standard on most typical blood panels so you may have to ask your doctor to order it for you.

 

For a detailed list of foods and there vitamin D content, go HERE.

 

Healthy Blood Levels of Vitamin D: What should your blood levels be for bone and overall health?  Vitamin D is usually measured in the blood in ng/mL. That’s nanograms per milliliter of blood. Sometimes you’ll see it in nmol/L. That’s nanomoles per liter. For most people, 20 – 50 ng/ml is a healthy range (that’s 50 – 125 nmol/L). I have osteoporosis and my osteoporosis specialist likes my levels to be in 40’s for ng/ml. So, I take 1000 IU’s to keep it there. I also get some vitamin D from vitamin D fortified milk and orange juice, so I am well within the healthy range.

 

My Advice:

  • Ask Your Doctor to Check Your Blood Levels of Vitamin D

  • Check Food Labels for Vitamin D for the % of the Daily you’re getting per serving

  • Check Your Supplements for Vitamin D. Multivitamins and some joint supplements often have vitamin D in them.

  • ·Consider an 800 to 1000 IU Vitamin D tablet or gel cap if you’re not getting enough from your foods and other supplements.

  • If you do need a vitamin D supplement, look for vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is the animal form of D and is better absorbed than the plant based D2. If you are a vegan vegetarian and want to take the D2, that is fine.

  • Don’t overdo it! As we’ve seen the right amount is good, but more is not better and can be dangerous.

 

Please post any questions you have in the comments section and I will get back to you!

I know I still owe you all a blog on our yogurt and diabetes segment last week! I haven’t forgotten about it and you should see it mid-next week. Promise!


Beth Kitchin PhD RDN

 

 

 

 

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