Can Taking Too Many Vitamins be Harmful?

April 29, 2016
Is taking too many vitamins harmful?

A common practice among many Americans, taking dietary supplements is a convenient and relatively inexpensive way to help meet daily nutritional requirements and boost overall health. There can be too much of a good thing, however. When overused, vitamins can actually trigger unpleasant symptoms and create health problems with potentially far-reaching consequences. If you start your day with a handful of supplements, it’s important to learn the potential risks of vitamin overuse—also referred to as hypervitaminosis or vitamin toxicity—and how to avoid it.

Understanding the Different Types of Vitamins

Vitamins are divided into two categories: water-soluble and fat-soluble. Since water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water, your body needs a steady daily intake of these nutrients from food or vitamin supplements. This means it’s fairly difficult to overconsume water-soluble vitamins. Folic acid, biotin, pantothenic acid, tryptophan, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, B12, and vitamin C are all classified in the water-soluble category.

Unlike water-soluble vitamins, though, fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins K, E, D, and A are stored in bodily tissues. While excess amounts of water-soluble vitamins are typically flushed out in urine, fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body, making it much easier for dangerous levels of them to accumulate if too many supplements are consumed.

What Are the Symptoms of Vitamin Toxicity?

Consuming excess amounts of fat-soluble vitamins like K, E, D, and A can cause a wide range of symptoms, including but not limited to:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach cramps
  • Red, irritated, peeling, or itchy skin
  • Dizziness
  • Poor muscle coordination
  • Bone pain
  • Kidney stones
  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Irregular menstruation in women
  • Hair loss
  • Hemorrhaging

Studies also suggest that high doses of certain vitamins could increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers. In extreme cases, vitamin toxicity may lead to osteoporosis, heart problems, liver damage, neurological issues, stroke, birth defects in pregnant women, coma, and even death.

How Much Is Too Much?

Don’t panic. Taking vitamin supplements is generally safe as long as users follow the directions on product labels and familiarize themselves with the tolerable amounts of the vitamins and minerals they are taking. Likewise, since many of today’s foods are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, it’s important to check if you even need to be taking supplements at all. Some foods contain surprisingly high amounts of vitamins and minerals—for instance, just six Brazil nuts contain about 540 micrograms of selenium, which represents 780% of this trace mineral’s recommended daily amount.

Large amounts of vitamins consumed naturally through food are much less likely to cause vitamin toxicity than a surplus of supplements. Eating a varied diet with plenty of vitamins and minerals is key to achieving good overall health and avoiding a vitamin deficiency—another unfortunate health issue with its own set of adverse health effects.

How to Avoid Vitamin Toxicity

Before beginning a vitamin supplement regimen, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your individual needs based on age, health, and level of activity. It’s also important to discuss any medications you regularly take, as certain drugs can interact with supplements and increase the risk of vitamin toxicity. You can learn more about the tolerable upper limits of vitamins and minerals by visiting the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Information Center.

PhysicianOne Urgent Care Can Help

Discussing vitamin intake with an urgent care clinician may seem unusual, but PhysicianOne Urgent Care isn’t your usual urgent care center. Our practice is affiliated with Yale New Haven Health and Tufts Medical Center, offering expert medical guidance to patients of all ages at our fully equipped locations throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York. Our clinicians can recommend an ideal vitamin regimen based on your individual needs and health goals, and can evaluate your symptoms if you have any concerns.

Can’t make it to one of our urgent care centers? Not a problem—PhysicianOne Urgent Care is pleased to offer a unique 24/7 telemedicine service. Our Virtual Visits allow patients to consult “face-to-face” with medical professionals from the comfort of home at any time.

If you’d like to speak with a PhysicianOne Urgent Care clinician about beginning or changing your vitamin supplement regimen, connect with us online or visit one of our urgent care centers by scheduling an appointment or simply walking in. We’re open 365 days per year during extended hours and accept most health insurance plans.

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