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Vitamin D Overdose Symptoms

For years we’ve been told too much sun was dangerous. And too much can be.

Unfortunately, the over-emphasis on the dangers of excessive sun have caused a swing in the opposite direction. Excessive use of sun blockers, people always wearing long sleeves and a hat, as well as staying indoors more are all common responses. As a result, more and more people are testing deficient in Vitamin D.

This is a shame since the right amount of sun exposure is the absolute best way to get Vitamin D in the body. But because of this ‘sun phobia’ concept, many people are being told to supplement with Vitamin D3 by their medical doctor.

Some doctors routinely recommend 4,000 to 5,000 IUs of D3 to patients testing low. Compare this to the previous RDA of 400 IUs a day. That’s at least 10 times higher!

Of course D3 is the very best form of supplemental Vitamin D, but in this case there is definitely the possibility of too much of a good thing.

Pros & Cons of Vitamin D

We’ll go over the dangers of too much Vitamin D in a moment, but first, here are the reasons people who test for low levels ought to consider taking Vitamin D supplements:

  • Experiencing poor memory related to aging
  • Dealing with blood sugar problems, including type II diabetes and Syndrome X
  • Diagnosed with breast, prostate and several other types of cancer
  • Experiencing chronic pain, particularly pain such as fibromyalgia
  • Dealing with chronic depression, especially in the winter (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
  • Diagnosed with osteoporosis, osteomalacia, or osteopenia
  • Experiencing lowered immunity, frequent colds, etc.

All of these are valid reasons to consider increasing Vitamin D, assuming blood work shows low levels.

The problem comes when people take it indiscriminately. A case in point is a recent patient who, after hearing all the hoopla about deficiencies decided to take 4,000 IUs of Vitamin D3 every day.

He hadn’t done any blood work to determine his natural levels, nor did he consult me or his medical doctor about taking it. What he didn’t know was that too much Vitamin D can be as bad or worse than taking too little.

Unfortunately, it turns out that he didn’t need it. The way he found out was because of a severely painful, 3-day long attack of kidney stones.

In his case the kidney stones resulted from excessive Vitamin D causing calcium deposits in the soft tissue of his kidneys. Excessive amounts in the body can cause calcium to deposit in any type of soft tissue, including the heart and blood vessels (otherwise known as atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries).

Other Factors

In addition, this patient’s Metabolic Type® is Fast Oxidizer. Vitamin D shoves Fast Oxidizers further out of metabolic balance. That also contributed to the problem.

In other words, in this instance Vitamin D not only didn’t help anything, it actually contributed to a very distressing health crisis.

Fortunately, once the kidney stone episode was over, the solution to fix it was to simply stop taking the supplement along with drinking more water. After a while the body cleared the excess and returned to normal.

In addition to the hardening of soft tissues in the body, other possible negative effects of too much Vitamin D can include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Excessive Thirst

While we normally think of vitamins as more or less innocuous, this instance illustrates that it pays to know what you need and how much. I encourage my patients to take supplements, but only when we know which supplements will support their health and well being.

Obviously this short article can’t identify your specific needs, which is why it makes sense to consult with someone who is knowledgeable about nutritional supplements and who can test for blood levels of vitamins like Vitamin D as well as determine your Metabolic Type so that the supplements you take are fine-tuned to match your exact requirements.


References:

Metabolic Typing® Advisors privately circulated document, “Nutrients As Per Systems,” 1987, 2000 Healthexcel, Inc.

 

Hyperhealth Pro Database, In-Tele-Health, Hansville, WA, 2008.

{ 22 comments… add one }
  • RossAugust 9, 2009, 4:05 pm

    Hi there,

    I’ve been taking vitamin D3 since around about Christmas 2007 with no major side effects at all. At first I would sunbathe since I was living in the tropics and since returning to England I’ve been on about 5,000 iu per day.

  • drbruceAugust 15, 2009, 8:11 pm

    Hi Ross,

    Many people do fine on higher doses of vitamin D. I’m happy you’re one of them! It’s especially good since you’re in a less sunny climate now.

    At the same time, unlike most water soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin D, can be over done. Generally it’s a good idea to periodically test blood levels of vitamin D to make sure you’re not getting too much.

    Be well,

    Dr. Bruce

  • JenSeptember 21, 2009, 6:55 am

    As a wellness professional, I don’t feel we have enough information yet on Vitamin D to determine the correct dosage or what longterm effects are to be had for supplementing. I’ve had clients test low and need 10,000 per day and others need only 400 per day to raise their levels. We are all unique individuals and should treat ourselves as such.

    I completely concur with the information that vitamin d doesn’t go out in the urine. In fact, vitamin d is really a hormone so it can do a lot of good, and not so good, if used improperly.

    There is also a big difference between types of vitamin D. Vitamin e, k and iron all build up in the system so people should be conscious of all of these.

  • Robert WheelerNovember 9, 2009, 7:45 am

    I recently listened to a radio program put on by a doctor and a pharmacist about the pros & cons of Vitamin D3 and the taking of 50,000 units per day.
    They were saying that if your blood test for Vitamin D is 32 nanograms or less, that people should ingest this amount of Vitamin D3 to increase their blood level to 50 to 52 nanograms of Vitamin D3.
    Were they giving bad advice or what???
    Thank you.
    Robert Wheeler.

  • drbruceNovember 15, 2009, 8:26 am

    Hi Robert,

    Jen’s comments above remind us of how different each person is when it comes to supplements. I would certainly never take an amount over 400 to 1000 IUs without doing a blood test.

    Even then, I’d re-test periodically to make sure that:

    1) The blood levels were rising, and
    2) They aren’t going too high

    The advice you heard on the radio is generally good. There are a couple of things I’d add to this.

    First, the test that most closely reflects healthy levels of vitamin D in the body is the test for 25(OH)D, also called 25-hydroxyvitamin D. There is another test commonly used, but it isn’t nearly as relevant.

    Second, the numbers you mention are accurate, but on the conservative side. I like the following values for the 25(OH)D test:

    Deficiency = less than 50 ng/ml
    Optimal = 50-65 ng/ml
    Excess = greater than 100 ng/ml

    Even though the excess number is higher, I’d still aim for the optimal level of 50 to 65 ng/ml.

    Hope that helps!

    Dr. Bruce

  • JenniferDecember 10, 2009, 10:52 pm

    Yours is a voice of reason on this issue. I have a terrible reaction to too much vitamin D, and I find this one-size-fits-all insistence by so many to be the height of ignorance.

  • drbruceDecember 10, 2009, 11:28 pm

    Hi Jennifer,

    Thanks for your comments. From your reaction to Vitamin D you’re likely a fast oxidizer. They seem to do the very worst on excessive amounts.

    And yes, if one size is supposed to fit all, then we’d all better hope it’s our size!

    Be well,

    Dr. Bruce

  • WILL TRENDFebruary 1, 2010, 4:04 am

    dear dr eichelberger.
    from a holistic point of view listening to ones body (internal pharmacy) re what whole/natural foods does it need/desire ?, should give the indication of vitamin excess or deficiency.
    test out how accurate bodies message is via blood tests if they prove positive one gains more confidence in our own self referral intelligence.
    of course cravings can be misleading which is where initially
    standard medical blood tests can help.
    kind regards
    will

  • drbruceFebruary 1, 2010, 7:54 am

    Hi Will,

    I am a big advocate of listening to one’s body. After all, body’s learned to survive long before we were smart enough to be able to run lab tests.

    At the same time, there are advantages to knowing more about what’s going on from a lab test point of view. The problem is that even the best information from a lab can’t tell us what our individual, unique optimal levels are of a particular substance. Lab tests by their nature are standardized for a specific range of responses.

    That’s why learning to listen to how you feel and respond to any changes in diet, supplements, activities, etc. is crucial to success. If you are paying close attention to your body’s responses when you make such changes, you’re likely going to know whether the changes you make are helping or not.

    Be well,

    Dr. Bruce

  • Claire KenneallyMarch 23, 2010, 9:28 am

    I’m 76 yrs old & recently diagnosed with diabetes. My latest blood work was good with an Ac1 of 6.0. Was told by doctor to start taking Vit D3 1000 IU’s. Am already getting Vit D in daily supplement, and in daily calcium with Vit D3. This would total to 2800 IU’s daily. Is this too much? My 25 OHD #’s were 33; 33; and -4.

  • drbruceMarch 23, 2010, 10:16 am

    Hi Claire,

    Your test results are on the low side, which says for whatever reason you may not be absorbing the D3 you’re taking.

    Since I don’t know about your detailed specifics (Metabolic Type, symptom patterns, history, etc.), I can’t make specific recommendations. I can, however, make general comments. Please take that into account when reading the following:

    The effect of any nutrient on the body depends on many factors. Digestive efficiency, autonomic nervous system balance, cellular oxidation rate, etc. Because of that one person’s response to a nutrient can be radically different than another person’s.

    For example, Vitamin D3 pushes a Fast Oxidizer faster, which can make them more imbalanced. Slow Oxidizers, by contrast, do very well with Vitamin D3.

    That being said, the modern consensus is that most people don’t have enough Vitamin D. This is possibly because of increased use of sunscreens, more inside activities and dietary deficiencies.

    The old RDA standards seem low in general, so more D3 in the diet & supplements is usually okay. There are MDs who recommend 5,000 IUs daily. I think that’s too high for a general recommendation, although there are people who can benefit from this much.

    My own approach is to increase Vitamin D when indicated in the following ways:

    1) Get more sunshine. Obviously the usual caveats apply, particularly not to over-do this. In other words, don’t get sunburned. The best time for sun is between 11 am and 2 pm.

    2) Supplement with D3. Because there are differences in how people process supplements (see above), I typically recommend starting at a lower dose and very gradually increasing. For Vitamin D, that is a very slow process. I might start with an additional 400 to 500 IUs and do that for six months. Then I’d re-test. If still low I would increase to 1,000 IUs and follow the same procedure.

    Sunlight is my preferred source of D3 because the body will naturally regulate the amount made. If necessary, supplements can be a useful secondary choice.

    NOTE: If someone has a history of kidney stones or atherosclerosis, I’d be extra cautious with the supplements.

    Hope that’s helpful.

    Dr. Bruce

  • andreaApril 10, 2010, 1:27 am

    Does anyone consider a calcium level? I was recently diagnosed with sarcoidosis…prior to that I had a vitamin D level drawn and I was on the low end of normal…30 I believe..so my doctor recomended adding 2000IU a day..which I did…I started having symptoms like really bad headaches…frequent urination..large amounts…and thirst..dizziness…facial numbness…a stiff neck…night sweats…didn’t attribute ANY of this to having too much vitamin d…my doctor thought I was crazy and wrote it all off to my thyroid…she said it was being over treated…was upset I was taking more of my thyroid medicine then she prescribed…turns out my tsh was high I was being UNDER treated…but not high enough to warrant all those symptoms…in my opinion….she did a cbc…lymphocytes were low…I also had other symptoms…swollen lymph nodes everywhere…tingling….felt off balance…severe fatigue though that COULD be my thyroid..I’ve had the fatigue for two years now nothing helps…I switched doctors…and it all ended up being Sarcoidosis…which though I had most likely had for years (looking back it makes sense) -the D triggered it…my calcium level was HIGH with a LOW D level…so I was getting plenty of D…my body was trying to protect itself from absorbing anymore calcium….I have a long way to go but I quit the D supps right away…very scary though….too much calcium is dangerous…..

  • drbruceApril 10, 2010, 7:49 pm

    Hi Andrea,

    You make a good point about the calcium. There are more variables than just vitamin D to consider.

    In addition to supplements, there is also our own individual response to taking them. As you’ve seen, that can be dramatically different, as in your situation.

    The key to Sarcoidosis in my experience is the inflammatory nature of the problem. Any time there is an inflammatory response in the body it’s an alert that the body is responding to something it considers abnormal.

    What most Western MDs don’t consider is that the denatured quality of our modern diet. When you think about it, we aren’t getting the nutrition that our ancestors did even 100 years ago.

    Add to that the fact that each of us has an ideal ‘fuel mix’ when it comes to food, and the kind of response you describe to a general recommendation isn’t all that surprising.

    I’m delighted you listened to your body’s signals and not the medical advice you originally received.

    All the best for turning your health back around.

    Dr. Bruce

  • dinahDecember 11, 2010, 6:51 am

    I was diagnosed with lyme disease. As it turns out, I have had it for a while and did not know it. A friend that is a Nurse informed me that I should have my Vitamin D levels testes to make certain they were not low. I recieved the results yesterday to find that my total Vit D, 25-OH is 11 and it should be between 30-100 ng/mL. VitD, 25-OH -D3 is 11 and D2 is <4 ng/mL. I also have Sarcoidosis. I was informed that my Sarcoidosis is due to the lyme disease and as I read, both deplete vitD but is that correct? If so, what can I do?

    Regards,
    Dinah

  • Dr. BruceDecember 11, 2010, 9:01 am

    Hello Dinah,

    Low vitamin D levels are often associated with impaired immune function, which would be consistent with the sarcoidosis. Sarcoidosis, in turn can be triggered by many things, including lyme. In any case, there is typically a great deal of inflammation present related to all of these conditions.

    Treating lyme disease is always multi-faceted and somewhat tricky. Each situation is different. And since it is impossible to do justice to your unique situation by way of an online comment, I can’t address particulars in your case. I will suggest you look at Dr. Kenneth Singleton’s site, http://www.lymedoctor.com/. He’s an expert in the field and has written a book on the subject called “The Lyme Disease Solution.”

    All the best,

    Dr. Bruce

  • Alison SawMay 11, 2011, 11:07 pm

    Great blog doctor!

    I read a article on a mouse who had their vitamin d receptors taken out of them, and this resulted in the mouse aging much faster then the mouse with adequately high vitamin d levels. It was truly horrifying at how old the vitamin d deficient mouse looked. I was wondering whether this happens to humans as well, does being vitamin d deficient have an impact on the physical appearance? If you do know, tell me what impact vitamin d has on people’s appearance.

    Alison

  • Dr. BruceMay 12, 2011, 4:48 am

    Hi Alison,

    I’m glad you like the blog.

    Thanks for the reference to the mouse study on vitamin D. The picture from that study is quite dramatic. I’ve taken the liberty to reproduce the picture here:

    Vitamin D deficient mouse compared to normal mouse.

    The mouse on the left had its vitamin D receptors blocked. The image comes from the web site, “Perfect Health Diet.” The article is here: The Amazing Curative Powers of High Dose Vitamin D.

    There is no doubt that vitamin D supports healthy aging. But as with most nutrients, each person will require an amount unique to them. Some need much more and some almost none. That is why it is important to take studies like the one above as indicators, but not as definitive. Especially when it comes to vitamin D, sunshine is the best source for most people.

    Below is a summary of research on vitamin D and its effect on aging. This information comes from the Hyperhealth Pro database:

    Take care,

    Dr. Bruce

    ===== Vitamin D & Aging Research =====

    Baker, M. R. The decline of vitamin D status with age. Age Ageing. 9(4):249-252, 1980.

    A cross-sectional study of plasma 25-hydroxy-vitamin D (250HD) concentrations in healthy women in the age range 20-96 years is reported. Mean values decline with increasing age while abnormally low levels of plasma 250HD are more common in the elderly. The decline in vitamin D status with age is probably the result of lack of sunlight exposure associated with social factors and physical immobility.

    MacLaughlin, J., et al. Aging decreases the capacity of human skin to produce vitamin D3. J Clin Invest. 76(4):1536-1538, 1985.

    An evaluation of surgically obtained skin (age range, 8-92 yr) revealed that there is an age-dependent decrease in the epidermal concentrations of provitamin D3 (7-dehydrocholesterol). To ascertain that aging indeed decreased the capacity of human skin to produce vitamin D3, some of the skin samples were exposed to ultraviolet radiation and the content of previtamin D3 was determined in the epidermis and dermis. The epidermis in the young and older subjects was the major site for the formation of previtamin D3, accounting for greater than 80% of the total previtamin D3 that was produced in the skin. A comparison of the amount of previtamin D3 produced in the skin from the 8- and 18-yr-old subjects with the amount produced in the skin from the 77- and 82-yr-old subjects revealed that aging can decrease by greater than twofold the capacity of the skin to produce previtamin D3. Recognition of this difference may be extremely important for the elderly, who infrequently expose a small area of skin to sunlight and who depend on this exposure for their vitamin D nutritional needs.

    Thomas, M. K., et al. Hypovitaminosis D in medical inpatients. New England Journal of Medicine. 338(12):777-783, 1998.

    Vitamin D deficiency is a major risk factor for bone loss and fracture. Although hypovitaminosis D has been detected frequently in elderly and housebound people, the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency among patients hospitalized on a general medical service is unknown. The authors assessed vitamin D intake, ultraviolet-light exposure, and risk factors for hypovitaminosis D and measured serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D, parathyroid hormone, and ionized calcium in 290 consecutive patients on a general medical ward. A total of 164 patients (57 percent) were considered vitamin D-deficient (serum concentration of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, < or = 15 ng per milliliter), of whom 65 (22%) were considered severely vitamin D-deficient (serum concentration of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, <8 ng per milliliter). Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations were related inversely to parathyroid hormone concentrations. Lower vitamin D intake, less exposure to ultraviolet light, anticonvulsant-drug therapy, renal dialysis, nephrotic syndrome, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, winter season, higher serum concentrations of parathyroid hormone and alkaline phosphatase, and lower serum concentrations of ionized calcium and albumin were significant univariate predictors of hypovitaminosis D. 69% of the patients who consumed less than the recommended daily allowance of vitamin D and 43% of the patients with vitamin D intakes above the recommended daily allowance were vitamin D-deficient. Inadequate vitamin D intake, winter season, and housebound status were independent predictors of hypovitaminosis D in a multivariate model. In a subgroup of 77 patients less than 65 years of age without known risk factors for hypovitaminosis D, the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency was 42%. Hypovitaminosis D is common in general medical inpatients, including those with vitamin D intakes exceeding the recommended daily allowance and those without apparent risk factors for vitamin D deficiency.

    Russell, R. M. The aging process as a modifier of metabolism. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 72(2):529S-5632S, 2000.

    Gastrointestinal function is well preserved with aging regarding the digestion and absorption of macronutrients, but the aging gastrointestinal tract becomes less efficient in absorbing vitamin D. The new dietary reference intake for elderly adults (aged 70 years and over) is 15 mcg per day.

  • DavidMay 13, 2011, 4:08 pm

    I’ve had a blood test recently where I had low vitamin D levels. I was prescribed 50,000 units once a week for 8 weeks. I had my first today. Is it normal to feel a little uneasy afterwards. I have a history of kidney stones. Would a smaller, daily dosage be more prudent?

    In addition, right before my blood was taken I had spent a few days in the hospital due to an unrelated incident, could that have caused my low vitamin D levels? (I’m also allergic to milk so I can’t get any that way)

  • Dr. BruceMay 14, 2011, 6:52 pm

    Hi David,

    While I can’t make personal recommendations to you on the blog, there are a few things worth noting about your questions.

    50,000 units weekly is a standard approach used by M.D.s to restore normal levels of D. However, I would mention the kidney stones to the prescribing doctor to get their input on it. Probably 8 weeks isn’t enough to cause a problem, but everyone is different, so it is hard to say in your specific case.

    Being fat soluble, vitamin D gets stored in the body for longer than water soluble vitamins. A couple of days out of the sunshine wouldn’t normally reduce. So unless you were in the hospital for an extended period, that probably isn’t the issue.

    The only way to know if vitamin D is potentially a problem would be to know your Metabolic Type. Since you probably don’t know what it is, I can’t offer anything more substantial. Definitely let your doctor know about your concerns.

    Let me know how it turns out.

    Dr. Bruce

  • SaraJuly 20, 2011, 2:46 am

    Dear Dr Bruce – thank you for all of this information. I have a rather lengthy (!) question:
    I am 53 y.o. and had a total hysterectomy 4 yrs ago (grade 1 Endometrial Cancer – all clear now). We moved countries and I now live in Austria. My first encounter with a gynaecologist here (3 years ago) resulted in prescriptions for Thyroxin and D3 drops. I take a homeopathic form of DHEAA instead of a tablet form of HRT. I have continued taking the thyroid preparation but I never felt the need to continue the D3 drops. A few months ago it was suggested that I may benefit from a high dose of D3 but it is very expensive on prescription here so I ordered a 2,400 iu D3 through trusted sources. I have two symptoms: 1. For the past few weeks I have been feeling inexplicably nauseous; 2. I have parents both with Osteo and Rheumatoid Arthritis – I had managed eliminating various aches and pains through taking a wonderful preparation called Litozin (a 5 week ‘cure’ of Rose Hip, manufactured in Denmark) – after 5 weeks all indications of inflammation had disappeared. Now… since taking the D3 I have become plagued by arthritic type pains in the middle knuckles of my fingers and, more recently, pains have started to crop up in various bones and joints. I take a maintenance dose of the Litozin so I know that I should be okay but am now wondering whether these other pains may be as a result of the 2,400 iu per day over the past 4-5 months?

    If any of my meanderings strike a chord for you I would be most grateful for your comments. Oh… not sure if it is of any use but I have never been able to stomach milk and when it has been suggested I take calcium I always feel quite ill so the only calcium I get is from a daily intake of 170grams of yoghurt and 60 grams of good cheese.

    Hope you have an answer for the nausea and pains.
    Kindest wishes
    Sara

  • Dr. BruceJuly 20, 2011, 6:42 am

    Dear Sara,

    Obviously I can’t offer specific medical advice for your situation, but I can make some general observations. I hope these are helpful to you.

    A negative response to vitamin D is not unusual. Some people cannot take even small amounts of it. Since each person is unique, each person must adjust their dose to what works for them. And the best way to do that is by listening to their body’s symptoms. Any unwanted symptom, including nausea and pain, can be a signal.

    Why is this so? It could be a variety of reasons. For one, vitamin D acts as a hormone in the body and some people are highly sensitive to external hormones. Another factor might be one’s Metabolic Type. In particular, Fast Oxidizers do not do as well with vitamin D supplements. There may be other reasons as well, but these two are the most common.

    I hope that gives you some useful ideas.

    Dr. Bruce

  • SaraJuly 20, 2011, 8:02 am

    Thank you Dr Bruce
    Sara 🙂

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