Pills containing up to 2,250 times the recommended dose of the “sunshine vitamin” are putting people at risk of heart and kidney problems, according to the NHS lab, which said it sees two to three overdose cases every week.
Vitamin D, which is produced naturally by the body after exposure to sunlight, is needed for healthy bones. Around one in five people in gloomy Britain are thought to have a deficiency, which can lead to a range of symptoms from achey bones and fatigue to clinical depression. But taking too much of the vitamin can cause the body to absorb dangerously high levels of calcium, leading to other serious health problems including high blood pressure and nausea.
Earlier this year everyone in Britain was recommended to take supplements of the vitamin — which is supposed to reduce susceptibility to colds and flu — during the darker months, but now a lab in Birmingham which sells DIY vitamin D blood tests to the public says many people have responded by taking dangerously high levels of the substance.
City Assays lab posts patients testing kits, which require them to prick their thumb and put a drop of blood onto a card, which is then sent back to the lab and analysed.
Dr Jonathan Berg, who runs the clinic, told The Times: “We do a lot of vitamin D tests for the public, some of whom are taking huge amounts of vitamin D from the internet.
“We’re phoning people two or three times a week saying, ‘Your vitamin D is way higher than it should be. We suggest you come off whatever you’re taking and see your GP.’ We’ve picked up hundreds of people who are overdosing themselves on vitamin D.”
Last year a 10-year-old boy died in India after a prescription of vitamin D pushed his blood levels to 30 times the healthy limit.
A study by Mr Berg and his colleague Robyn Shea, published in the Annals of Clinical Biochemistry last year, found that 372 patients were “self-prescribing” large quantities of vitamin D, leading to levels of the vitamin in their blood which were more than five times the toxic level and 20 times the recommended level.
In an article for The Independent published last year, Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology, King's College London wrote that he had come to view the vitamin as potentially dangerous and believed it was time to rethink the way it is administered.
“Until now we haven’t worried about giving people extra vitamin D because we thought ‘it might help anyway and of course (as it’s a vitamin) doesn’t do you any harm”. With our increasing knowledge, we should now know better,” he said.
“While several studies in normal people failed to find any protective effects from vitamin D, others have been more worrying. One 2015 randomised study of 409 elderly people in Finland suggested that vitamin D failed to offer any benefits compared to placebo or exercise – and that fracture rates were, in fact, slightly higher.”
He added that the margin between the usual prescribed dose and a dangerous dose is very small.
“The usual prescribed dose in most countries is 800 to 1,000 units per day (so 24,000-30,000 units per month). However, two randomised trials found that at around 40,000 to 60,000 units per month Vitamin D effectively became a dangerous substance,” he said.
It also remains unclear how artificial Vitamin D is absorbed by the body.
Six healthy breakfast recipes - in pictures
Six healthy breakfast recipes - in pictures
You will need: 1 onion, 1 red pepper, 1 stick of celery, 1 cup of mushrooms, 4 to 6 eggs, 1 habanero chilli (optional), 1 tablespoon of oil, 25g of grated low-fat cheese, 150 ml of skimmed milk, 50g of turkey breast. Add some spinach for an extra boost.
Method:1) Cook your turkey breast so that it’s ready to add to the mix later on. Best to grill it and then chop it up as it’s healthier than shallow frying. 2) Meanwhile, heat the oil and add your onion, pepper, chilli, mushrooms and celery to your pan. Cook these for around five minutes until your veg is nice and soft. 3) Whisk your eggs and milk together in a separate bowl, seasoning with salt and pepper. 4) Add the egg mixture, veg, cooked turkey and cheese to a high-sided baking pan or tin and cook in your oven for around 15 minutes at 170C.
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Be careful when you buy your porridge, as some brands will cram a lot of sugar in there. Porridge is a good breakfast option as it is renowned for releasing energy slowly, which means you can get to lunch without suffering from a lull. A great source of fibre, potassium and vitamins, bananas are always a good accompaniment to your morning oats.
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Ingredients: 2 full eggs, 3 egg whites, asparagus, peppers, 50g of smoked salmon
Method1) Boil your asparagus in water for around five minutes. 2) Meanwhile, mix your eggs and egg whites in a jug, and add a splash of skimmed milk. Chop some peppers up and throw them in too. 3) Once your asparagus is cooked, drain it and chop into smaller chunks. Add these to your egg mixture. 4) Whisk your mixture and season with salt and pepper. 5) Pour the mix into a hot pan with a small knob of butter or a teaspoon of quality olive oil. 6) Cook the omelette for around 90 seconds to two minutes. 7) Once the bottom is cooked, take the pan off the hob and place under the grill for another 30 seconds to a minute in order to cook the top. 8) Serve with your smoked salmon.
Greek yoghurt has vast nutritional benefits. Regardless of where you stand on the superfood debate, Greek yoghurt’s credentials speak for themselves. A good source of potassium, protein, calcium and essential vitamins, this food forms an ideal base for a healthy breakfast, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
Eggs Florentine is not only a tasty breakfast, it also carries a hefty nutritional punch, particularly when you throw some spinach into the equation.
So fast and easy to make, yet so effective. Wholemeal toast can be a good breakfast choice, as long as you are sensible with your toppings. Peanut butter is perfect. A good source of “healthy fats”, as well as protein and Vitamin E among other nutrients, a liberal spreading of peanut butter can set you up for the day.
Professor Spector said: “Until now we have believed that taking vitamin supplements is ‘natural’ and my patients would often take these while refusing conventional ‘non-natural’ drugs. Our body may not view supplements in the same misguided way. Vitamin D mainly comes from UV sunlight converted slowly in our skin to increase blood levels or is slowly metabolised from our food. In contrast, taking a large amount of the chemical by mouth or as an injection could cause a very different and unpredictable metabolic reaction.”
Public Health England says most people get enough vitamin D from sunlight in the spring and summer. But it recommends that for the rest of the year adults and children over the age of four consume 10 micrograms per day, either in supplements or in food — the amount found in 3oz of wild salmon, 8oz of tuna or 10 large free-range eggs.
But Mr Berg’s study found that some patients were regularly taking supplements containing up to 22,500 micrograms of vitamin D.
“We had a mum who had hugely overdosed two of her kids and we had to phone her to say, ‘You’ve got to get to your GP; what have you done?’” Mr Berg told The Times. “It’s very easy to do, particularly when you buy off the internet the liquid vitamin D supplements.”
Mr Berg believes unproven claims that vitamin D can help with a range of medical conditions are partly to blame for the overdosing.
“Vitamin D will help if you’ve got a problem with bone metabolism and calcium,” he said. “But there’s an awful lot of people that lecture about it in quasi-quack scenarios.”Reuse content