You’ve likely heard the old adage that you can never get too much of a good thing. In fact, here at OmegaQuant, one of the questions we hear most often about Vitamin D is this: is it possible for me to get too much Vitamin D?
To put it simply, yes. In this case, it turns out that you can get too much of a good thing.
This week’s blog may surprise you. Because most of the time when we’re sharing information about Vitamin D, we’re talking about ways to increase your Vitamin D intake and why that’s important. But this week, we’re going to talk about what happens if you do get too much of this essential nutrient—and how to avoid doing that.
Let’s first re-establish the importance of Vitamin D, how you can get it, and how much you actually need.
5 Reasons You Need Vitamin D
- Vitamin D is what’s known as an essential nutrient. That means two things: first, your body needs it to function, and second, your body does not make what you need on its own. Therefore, you need to get your vitamin D from outside sources, such as food, OTC dietary supplements or medications, or the sun.
- In partnership with calcium, vitamin D helps build strong bones and maintain bone health.
- Vitamin D also plays an important role in helping prevent gum disease and tooth decay.
- Vitamin D helps regulate the immune system.
- Some research has linked vitamin D deficiency to certain cancers, heart disease, weight gain and even depression.
4 Ways to Get Vitamin D
- The sun. You may have heard that vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin. That’s because when your skin is exposed to sunlight, the ultraviolet rays cause your body to produce vitamin D. But speaking about too much of a good thing, it’s common knowledge that too much time in the direct sunlight—especially if you’re not using sunscreen/sun protection with an SPF of 15 or more—may lead to skin cancer.
- Food. While there are some foods—like fatty fish (salmon is a great choice), fortified milk or orange juice, egg yolks, beef liver, and mushrooms—that are good sources for vitamin D, unless they are regularly in your diet in sufficient quantities, you’re probably still not getting enough of this important nutrient.
- Dietary supplements. The advantage here is you know exactly how much vitamin D you’re taking in. But be mindful not to overdo it. When thinking about taking supplements, consider how much time you spend in the sun and how much vitamin D you might be getting from food.
- Prescription medication. Most people likely don’t need to take this route; however, if you are especially low in Vitamin D, your doctor may recommend a high dose (e.g., 50,000 IU) regimen. (If that’s the case, your doctor will also want to take regular blood tests to see how this high dose is impacting your Vitamin D blood levels.)
4 Signs That You May Be Low in Vitamin D
According to this article from the Cleveland Clinic, these four symptoms may indicate your vitamin D levels are low or you may even be vitamin D deficient. Fortunately, a simple blood test, including one offered by us here at OmegaQuant, can identify if that’s the case. (More on that later.)
- Bone Pain
- Muscle weakness, muscle aches, or muscle cramps
- Mood changes, like depression
6 Signs That You May Be Getting Too Much Vitamin D
On the flip side, it is possible to take in excessive amounts of this good thing: vitamin D. If you’ve been wondering about that, you are not alone. This piece from the Verywell Mind website has a helpful laundry list of potential symptoms to help you identify if you’re in that uncommon camp that overdoes it on the D vitamin. Here are a few examples, starting with the “d’s”:
Although it is rare to get too much Vitamin D, if you do, the consequences can be serious.
What Happens if You Do Get Too Much Vitamin D?
According to Mayo Clinic post, excessive amounts of this vitamin can lead to what’s called vitamin D toxicity, a rare but potentially serious condition resulting from a buildup of calcium (aka hypercalcemia) in your blood. This condition can create nausea, vomiting, weakness, and frequent urination. If not addressed, vitamin D toxicity can escalate to more serious, perhaps life-threatening issues.
Generally speaking, normal calcium serum blood levels are between 8.6 mg/dL to 10.5 mg/dL. Hypercalcemia is identified as calcium serum levels between 10.5 to 13.9 mg/dL, which are considered mild to moderate, while numbers between 14.0 and 16.0 mg/dL are considered a hypercalcemia crisis. Note that different labs may identify these levels slightly differently.
The best way to test your calcium serum levels to determine if you have hypercalcemia is to have your healthcare practitioner order a blood test. While excessive vitamin D is one potential cause of hypercalcemia, it is not the only one. Other possibilities include other medications, certain medical disorders, overactive parathyroid glands, or even cancer.
You’re likely aware that vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. But did you know that too much Vitamin D can create calcium deposits that result in kidney stones? Even worse, those calcium deposits can impact the kidneys in even more serious ways, potentially causing permanent kidney damage or kidney failure.
And while vitamin D is considered a bone health protector, some research has shown that high doses of vitamin D may have the opposite effect, leading to bone pain, and in some instances, loss of bone density.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) offers a consumer-friendly fact sheet that discusses the benefits of vitamin D, but also lays out the harmful consequences of very high levels of that vitamin in your blood (which ODS identifies as greater than 275 nmol/L or 150 ng/mL).
According to NIH, those very high levels can cause nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, confusion, pain, loss of appetite, dehydration, excessive urination and thirst, and kidney stones, while extremely high levels of vitamin D can cause kidney failure, irregular heartbeat, and even death. None of which you want to fool around with.
If it turns out that you do have too much Vitamin D in your blood, you’ll want to make changes to your intake and/or exposure (sunlight)—but most likely you’ll want to take a good, hard look at your dietary supplement routine. (Keep in mind that it may not be your vitamin D single supplement that is the culprit; multivitamins and some other supplements also include vitamin D in their formulas. You should check the labels to be sure of the exact amounts of vitamin D all of your supplements are delivering. The solution may be as simple as reducing the combined dosage, perhaps even slightly, but you’ll want to confer with your doctor.)
So, What Is the Right Amount of Vitamin D?
The current daily recommended amount of vitamin D is 600 IU (or 15 mcg) per day for adults under the age of 70 and 800 IU (or 20 mcg) daily for older adults. As for children, vitamin D is recommended beginning shortly after birth at 400 IU (or 10 mcg) daily for the first 12 months. After that, 600 IU (or 15 mcg) is recommended, and for teenagers, more may need to be considered.
Up to 4,000 IU (or 100 mcg) per day is generally considered to be the safe upper limit beginning at age 9. An upper limit (formally known as the Tolerable Upper Intake Level) is defined simply as the level at which there is no known toxicity. Others in the scientific community here in the US have identified doses up to 10,000 IU per day as a safe upper level for vitamin D.
Remember when considering recommended amounts as well as safe upper limits that all sources of Vitamin D should be taken into account.
How Do You Know if You’re Getting Too Much Vitamin D?
A reasonable question you might ask is “how do I translate IUs into blood level results, so I know if I’m getting too much Vitamin D?”
Well, if you’re an average human being, you can’t. And even if you’re a scientist, a doctor, or even an above average human being, the answer is you can’t—unless you get your blood levels tested.
In other words, the recommendations in IUs (or mcgs) for how much vitamin D you need is what you should aim to get into your body. Finding out if that’s working to get you to optimal blood levels requires a blood test (ordered from your doctor) or a simple at-home dried blood spot test from OmegaQuant.
So, this is what we’re saying. If you have symptoms of excessive vitamin D levels, talk to your doctor right away. Otherwise, OmegaQuant has a simple suggestion to help you reach and maintain the “Goldilocks Level”—think “not too little, not too much, but just right”—of vitamin D.
Testing to see where you’re at is the first step. OmegaQuant has identified 30 ng/mL to 50 ng/mL as the “Goldilocks Level” for Vitamin D and >100 ng/mL as excessive.
We’ve developed a science-based Vitamin D Calculator and accompanying at-home blood test designed to help people who want to reach a desirable level in the blood to achieve protective and optimal benefits of vitamin D.
The test tells you where you are, and the calculator recommends what (if anything) you need to change vis a vis your vitamin D regimen to get you to the protective/optimal levels of vitamin D in your blood.
Figuring out how much you need to add or decrease your vitamin D levels to reach 30 ng/mL is not a one-size-fits-all situation. There are several factors that come in to play. For example, a person weighing 150 lbs. with a vitamin D blood level of 15 ng/mL and current intake of 1,000 IU per day of vitamin D would need to increase their total intake to more than 2800 IU/day to achieve a blood level of 30 ng/mL. A person with the same current and target blood level and intake, but who weighs more, like 200 lbs., for example, would need a dose of at least 3400 IU per day.
Keep in mind your Vitamin D intake should be estimated based on all sources, not just supplemental.
For more information about the Vitamin D test, click here. To see a “sample” report, click here. To try to the Vitamin D calculator, click here. (Keep in mind the calculator’s recommendations are considered most helpful after you know your vitamin D blood levels either from your doctor or from your OmegaQuant test. In either case, keep your doctor in the loop at the very least!)
Finally, remember this: it’s much more likely that you’re falling short of adequate vitamin D than it is that you are in excess. According to the government, in the U.S., most people have adequate blood levels of vitamin D, but almost one out of four people have levels that are too low or inadequate for bone and overall health.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans calls vitamin D a nutrient of concern because of its widespread underconsumption. And worldwide, despite all the known benefits of vitamin D, deficiencies are still relatively common. This article reports that approximately 40% of Europeans are vitamin D deficient, and 13% are severely deficient. Many other countries reported very high prevalence of low vitamin D status. For example, it is estimated that 490 million individuals in India are vitamin D deficient.
Neither deficiency nor excessive vitamin D levels are where you want to be if you have optimal health as a goal. Testing your blood levels regularly can help guide you on a path to the place that is right for you.