Excessive vitamin intake can lead to serious illness, death

Emma Herlihy

Like many health conscious Californians, sophomore Nora Wilkinson takes an array of vitamins every day, but mixing them in the wrong combination or with prescription drugs can cause illness or even death. “I take a multivitamin, stinging nettle, fruit and vitamin supplements, vitamin C, calcium and a few others,” said Wilkinson. “If I don’t take the vitamins for a week or two then I get sick more easily.”

Wilkinson’s experience is not uncommon, which makes overdosing on vitamins more probable because many supplements contain more than one vitamin or nutritional element.

“Iron can become toxic if you take too much of it and calcium can cause kidney stones,” said pharmacist Aashna Satija. “This only happens if you take huge amounts of them and do not drink enough water with them.”

Iron also affects hemoglobin levels in the blood stream. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that delivers oxygen from the lungs and to the peripheral tissues of the body.

“Iron raises the hemoglobin in your blood,” said pharmacist Tom Feroze. “If you have too much hemoglobin, it can make you go into a coma.”

Excessive amounts of iron can also stunt growth, cause constipation, fatigue, weight loss and muscle weakness.

“Iron saturates your blood and too much of it causes the iron to build up in your liver and shut down,” said pharmacist Marc Mitchell. “Your liver is like a vacuum cleaner and when it shuts down it can’t do its job of filtering out bad chemicals.”

Vitamins A, D, E and K are all fat-soluble vitamins. They dissolve very easily in oil, but not in water. They can accumulate in the body if large quantities and cause problems.

“A lot of the time when people take too many vitamins, it can change their skin tone and hair texture depending on how much they take and what they take the vitamins with,” said holistic nutritionist Deeann Bruno at Dee’s Whole Nutrition.

The vitamin zinc momentarily strengthens the immune system, but when taken with antibiotics it causes the immune system to work against the antibiotics depending on the combination and dosage of each, according to Feroze.

“If your doctor prescribes you with a certain medication, and let’s say you can’t have any calcium with that, then taking calcium with it will work against the medication and could cancel it out,” said Feroze.

The intake of calcium supplements has been linked to an increase in kidney stones in children and young adults, which may be caused by taking calcium vitamins on an empty stomach according to Satija.

“Taking calcium can cause the kidneys to become overworked and burns them out,” said Mitchell.

It is recommended to take vitamins if one has health problems, follows a vegetarian or vegan diet, or is pregnant or breastfeeding, according to familydoctor.org.

“Vitamins are just like chemicals,” said Mitchell. “If you take too much of anything, it isn’t good. It is too much for your body to handle.”

When taken with care, however, vitamins can complement a healthy diet.

“I try to eat as balanced as possible and just in case I don’t get as much vegetable-wise or in the lunch line, I get what I need through my vitamins,” said Wilkinson.