Most people will wander the vitamin aisles in in their local pharmacy or grocery store and assume those rows of bottles are relatively innocuous. Bright-colored bottles, some even containing gummy candy, look more like food than actual medications. Do not be mistaken – those bottles contain substances that can cause actual harm, even resulting in potential hospitalizations. In fact, a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that over 20,000 hospital admissions each year relate to vitamin overdoses.
If you do not take the correct amounts of vitamins, what can happen from a vitamin overdose:
- Kidney Problems: Ranging from kidney stones to actual kidney failure. Vitamins as frequently used as vitamin C taken in excess amounts can be harmful. Other culprits include Calcium, Magnesium as well as herbal supplements.
- GI Side Effects: Stomach aches, constipation, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms can be caused by many common supplement overdoses including Vitamin D, magnesium, certain B vitamins and many herbal products.
- Muscle Aches: While many supplements can help with muscle aches, others when taken in excess can cause them. In particular, you should be aware of certain supplements touted for cholesterol regulation, such as red yeast rice and niacin.
- Liver Problems: Your liver can take a hit from excess doses of supplements, especially the fat-soluble vitamins which accumulate in the liver such as Vitamins D, E, A and K. Others such as Niacin (a B vitamin) and herbal products can cause liver damage. In extreme cases, people have ended up needing liver transplants after taking toxic doses of supplements.
- Changes in Mental Status: When toxic levels of vitamins accumulate in your system, they can cause your cognition (thinking) to be affected and in severe cases coma can result. It can even reach lethal levels with very high doses of calcium or vitamin D.
- Headaches: Many common supplements can cause headaches if taken in excess and specifically if using poor quality supplements which may contain various additives that may or may not be listed on the label.
Diy-Shopping As The Culprit
The main culprit in overdoses is the lack of navigation and expertise in the vitamin shopping process. It is easy to walk down the vitamin aisles and feel overwhelmed. There are numerous options, and you cannot always trust individuals to identify the products that maximize their own self-interest. In fact, many individuals fall prey to misinformation in the media, or faulty recommendations from friends that result in really dangerous vitamin cocktails.
The retailers are incentivized to make the process as confusing as possible. They want to offer the most choice, so people will buy things that they don’t necessarily need, but feel that those options could potentially help them. You are now seeing 4+ rows of dietary supplements in some stores. The labels are confusing, and 80% of shoppers lack sufficient education on how to read a nutritional label. How is someone supposed to know the right about of “IUs” of Vitamin D? What is an IU? And, how much did their doctor tell them to take because they do not have a prescription form in hand? And will this interact with my medications? These are questions that most shoppers are not prepared to answer, and neither is the retail clerk. Even pharmacists report that they have low levels of knowledge on dietary supplement questions.
Personalization As A Safeguard
The emergence of personalized vitamin companies holds promise for reducing overdoses. These companies start with an upfront assessment, and tailor a vitamin routine to an individual’s specific needs. Commonly, these assessments ask about medications to avoid potential harmful interactions. A physician-supervised vitamin survey will have the best checks and balances against potential medication interactions because it is infused with medical knowledge and will look out for interactions not often reported in the literature. Some personalized vitamin companies are maternalistic in their approach and prescribe a very clear daily amount of vitamins. You will want to steer clear of those personalized vitamin companies that allow you to shop and throw anything into your pack of vitamins. The best approach is a personalized all-in-one multivitamin, blended into one complete tablet, because this ensures the design of the formula is clear to promote absorption and prevent excess amounts. It is important to take a look at the founders of the company – are they marketers looking to make a quick buck off the Internet trends, or respected authorities on vitamin science? It is always optimal to affiliate with a vitamin company that can make the best use of your data for personalization and look at the credentials of the company executives or founders. The shift ways from “DIY-shopping” to “personalized all-in-one multivitamins” will be a positive trend for preventing future overdoses.