A man developed kidney failure after taking 12 times the recommended amount of vitamin D every day.
The unnamed 54-year-old, from Canada, had been taking the bumper dose drops for two-and-a-half-years after being advised it by a naturopath.
But his health took a turn for the worse when he took a two week holiday and spent eight hours a day sunbathing – exposure to the sun helps the body to produce vitamin D.
Medical tests showed his blood creatinine levels were climbing, which is a sign the kidneys are struggling to work.
Doctors then found a dangerous build-up of vitamin D and calcium in his blood had impaired the function of his kidneys.
A 54-year-old man from Canada developed kidney failure after taking 12 times the recommended dose of a vitamin D supplement
It took a year to get the patient back to health – but he has been left with chronic kidney disease and may need dialysis in later life.
The patient, who did not have a history of bone loss or vitamin D deficiency, took a total of 8,000-12,000IU a day.
The recommended amount for people in Canada is a maximum 1,000IU – four times lower than guidelines for people in Britain.
Doctors, led by Bourne Auguste, a nephrologist at Toronto General Hospital, said they were concerned other people would make the same mistake.
Mr Auguste told Global News: ‘He thought that vitamins are harmless.
‘And his logic, which one can understand looking back, is that the more vitamin D I take, the stronger the bones will be.’
For unknown reasons, the patient said he was seeing a naturopathic, a specialist that suggests alternative methods such as homeopathy to try and treat illnesses.
She advised the man take eight drops of a brand daily which contained 500IU per drop, according to the report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
This would have come to 4,000IU – the maximum that is recommended a day in the UK by the NHS before it could become harmful.
But, unknowingly, the man bought another vitamin D product that contained 1,000IU per drop.
After returning home from a two-week trip to Southeast Asia, he went to his doctor. However, it is unclear why he attended.
His creatinine level had increased from his baseline of 100 μmol/L before the trip, to 132 μmol/L.
HOW MUCH VITAMIN D IS SAFE TO TAKE?
Some groups of the population are at greater risk of not getting enough vitamin D. Everyone over the age of five years is advised to consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D, but most people will get enough in the summer.
The amount of vitamin D contained in supplements is sometimes expressed in international units (IU), where 40 IU is equal to 1 microgram (1µg) of vitamin D.
If you choose to take vitamin D supplements, 400 IU a day will be enough for most people.
People who take supplements are advised not to take more than 4000 IU of vitamin D a day, as it could be harmful (this is equal to 100 micrograms or 0.1 milligrams).
This applies to adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women and the elderly, and children aged 11 to 17.
Children aged 1 to 10 shouldn’t have more than 2000 IU a day. Babies under 12 months shouldn’t have more than 1000 IU a day.
Some people have medical conditions that mean they may not be able to take as much vitamin D safely.
There’s no risk of your body making too much vitamin D from sun exposure, but always remember to cover up or protect your skin before the time it takes you to start turning red or burn.
His doctor thought he could be suffering from dehydration or heat stroke, and told him to stop taking his high blood pressure and diuretic medication.
But after four weeks, his creatinine level had risen to 376 μmol/L despite having no obvious illness. He was then referred to a kidney specialist.
It was then that the man was quizzed about his health background and told to stop taking supplements and eating calcium rich foods.
The patient was given medication and counselled on how to reduce the toxicity to his kidneys.
Almost one year after diagnosis, his calcium and vitamin D levels have returned to normal, but he has stage 3B chronic kidney disease.
The kidneys have an important role in making vitamin D useful to the body by converting the source into the active form of vitamin D that is needed by the body to help absorb calcium and phosphorous.
Vitamin D toxicity is rare but its widespread availability in various over-the-counter products could be risky for people who are uninformed, the authors said.
There’s no risk of your body making too much vitamin D from sun exposure or food choices.
The doctors wrote: ‘Our experience informs us that patients and clinicians should be better informed about the risks regarding the unfettered use of vitamin D.
‘Given new findings from the US Preventive Services Task Force, current Canadian guidelines regarding its use in low-risk individuals should be revisited.’
The authors said that a dose greater than 10,000IU per day for several months is not recommended to anyone.
It’s not known exactly how much time is needed in the sun to make enough vitamin D to meet the body’s requirements.
WHAT IS CHRONIC KIDNEY DISEASE AND HOW CAN YOU SPOT IT?
Chronic kidney disease (CKD), also called chronic kidney failure, describes the gradual loss of kidney function.
Our kidneys filter out waste products and excess fluids from the blood before they are excreted through urine. They also help maintain blood pressure.
As CKD advances, the kidneys do not function properly and dangerous levels of waste build up in your body.
The risk of CKD increases as you age. It is also more common among Asians and blacks.
CKD does not usually cause any symptoms until it has reached an advanced stage. It can be detected early on via blood and urine tests.
- Loss of appetite
- Fatigue and weakness
- Sleep problems
- Changes in how much you urinate
- Decreased mental sharpness
- Muscle twitches and cramps
- Swelling of feet and ankles
- Persistent itching
- Chest pain, if fluid builds up around the lining of the heart
- Shortness of breath, if fluid builds up in the lungs
- High blood pressure that is difficult to control
Those with the condition have a greater risk of having a stroke or heart attack. It can also cause kidney failure, when sufferers will need to have dialysis or a possible transplant.
However, lifestyle changes and medication can stop the disease from getting worse if it is diagnosed at an early stage.
To reduce your risk:
- Follow instructions for over-the-counter medications. Taking too many pain relievers can lead to kidney damage
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Don’t smoke. Smoking cigarettes can cause kidney damage
Source: Mayo Clinic