Is Too Much Vitamin D Bad for You? We Asked Nutritionists for the Facts

A Canadian man's kidneys failed after he took too much vitamin D. Here's why.

Sometimes you really can have too much of a good thing. A Canadian man learned that lesson the hard way: For more than two years, he regularly took an extremely high dose of vitamin D—which unfortunately caused permanent damage to his kidneys.

A 2019 case report explained that the 54-year-old went to his family physician after returning from a trip to Southeast Asia, where he spent pretty much all day, every day sunbathing. His physician found increased levels of creatinine in his blood, a sign that his kidneys, which usually filter out excess creatinine, were malfunctioning. His physician urgently referred him to a specialist.

Only then did doctors learn that the man had been prescribed high doses of vitamin D by a naturopath (a practitioner who focuses on natural remedies and alternative medicine). Prior to taking the supplements, the man didn't have any signs of vitamin D deficiency, such as a history of bone loss. To make things worse, the man took double the amount of vitamin D that the naturopath suggested, which was already too high to begin with.

Dietary supplements are minimally regulated by the FDA and may or may not be suitable for you. The effects of supplements vary from person to person and depend on many variables, including type, dosage, frequency of use, and interactions with current medications. Please speak with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before starting any supplements.

Recommended Vitamin D Intake

Every day for over two and half years, the man took eight to 12 drops of vitamin D, totaling 8,000 to 12,000 International Units (IU). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that for most adults between the ages of 51 to 70, the daily recommended amount of vitamin D is 600 IU, with an upper limit of 4000 IU. Excess vitamin D leads to toxic amounts of calcium—which can damage the kidneys.

Sun exposure helps the body produce the active form of vitamin D. And for the 54-year-old man, the combination of high vitamin D consumption with prolonged sun exposure on the patient's holiday led to his kidney failure. He ended up with a dangerously high amount of calcium in his blood, and his kidneys couldn't filter it properly.

At the time of the case report, the patient was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease and was told that he might eventually need dialysis.

Vitamin Supplementation Safety

Any vitamin taken in excess can be harmful, though different vitamins will have different effects on the body if misused. "The surplus can build up in the body and damage various organs or systems, throw the body out of balance, or stress organs that are involved with trying to purge the excess," said Cynthia Sass, RD, Health contributing nutrition editor. For example, research found that:

  • Too much vitamin C can cause diarrhea
  • Too much vitamin B6 can lead to nerve damage
  • Too much magnesium can cause muscle paralysis
  • Too much iron can cause abdominal distress

And, patients who take multiple supplements have a higher risk of inadvertently taking too much.

Consult a Professional

Before taking a vitamin supplement, first consult a nutritionist or healthcare provider. Sass explained that they will "assess your diet and possibly [do] blood work to determine if a supplement is needed, identify an ideal dose, and determine the length of time the supplement should be taken."

Read the Nutrition Label

Julie Upton, RD, said it's also important to read the nutrition label when buying a supplement. Look for the "% Daily Value." If it's above 100%, the amount is more than your body needs. Of course, in some cases, a nutritionist or healthcare provider may recommend taking more than 100%, but that's a decision that should be made by a professional.

Getting Vitamin D in Your Diet

"Vitamin supplements are meant to fill a gap or provide an optimal amount that can't be reached by food alone," explained Sass. Basically, if you're not deficient in a vitamin, taking it in a supplement won't improve your health in any way. In fact, as this case report showed us, it could actually be dangerous.

And remember, your diet could very well be providing all of the vitamins you need already. "If you focus on a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats, it is highly unlikely you would have any nutritional deficiencies," Upton advised.

A Quick Review

Unless you have a vitamin deficiency that was diagnosed by a healthcare provider, you shouldn't be taking any more vitamins than you need. As long as you eat a well-balanced diet, you should be gaining all of the vitamins you need from the foods you eat. If you are concerned about having a vitamin deficiency, you can discuss symptoms and treatment with your healthcare provider.

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  1. Auguste BL, Avila-Casado C, Bargman JM. Use of vitamin D drops leading to kidney failure in a 54-year-old man. CMAJ. 2019;191(14):E390-E394. doi:10.1503/cmaj.180465

  2. National Institutes of Health. Vitamin D.

  3. Tebben PJ, Singh RJ, Kumar R. Vitamin D-mediated hypercalcemia: mechanisms, diagnosis, and treatmentEndocr Rev. 2016;37(5):521-547. doi:10.1210/er.2016-1070

  4. Ford KL, Jorgenson DJ, Landry EJL, Whiting SJ. Vitamin and mineral supplement use in medically complex, community-living, older adults. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2019;44(4):450-453.

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