Getting enough vitamin D is one piece of your overall health and wellness puzzle. Reaching healthy levels can be more challenging for people with little exposure to sunlight, people with darker complexions, and people whose diet doesn’t contain many vitamin-D rich whole foods.
A vitamin D deficiency has been linked to:
- Poor Immune System (always getting sick)
- Back Pain
- Bone Pain (and bone loss)
- Slow Healing
- Hair Loss
- Muscle Pain
But (and this is an important ‘but’!), too much vitamin D can be toxic. High levels of vitamin D, which can come from supplementing unsafely, can put stress on the liver, lead to hypercalcemia, and consequently damage to the kidneys and heart.
In a case study published in Canadian Medical Association Journal on April 8, 2019, researchers Auguste Borne, Carmen Avila-Casado, and Joanne M. Bargman of the University of Toronto detail what happened to one Canadian man whose vitamin D supplements caused permanent kidney damage.
Man Accidentally Gives Himself Permanent Kidney Damage
A 54-year-old man recently returned from a vacation in Southeast Asia, where he had spent two weeks tanning almost all day. A visit to his family doctor raised concerns for acute kidney injury, and he was instructed to stop taking his blood pressure and diuretic medications. The man’s medical team initially suspected his extreme sunbathing was causing extracellular fluid depletion. But after four weeks had passed, his creatinine levels continued to skyrocket, and so his doctor referred him to a nephrology specialist.
Nephrology specalists sought to rule out the effects of genetic predisposition first. The man had two members of his immediate family that had needed dialysis before their 60th birthdays. But their round of tests came back negative for polycystic kidneys, hydronephrosis, or other conditions from ultrasounds, blood samples, and urine tests.
At a loss, his doctors considered less obvious causes: hypercalcemia of malignancy, multiple myeloma and granulomatous diseases like sarcoidosis. But nothing was pointing to the right answer, and his condition continued to worsen.
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Finally, there was nothing to do but start from scratch. The nephrology specialists conducted a thorough medical interview with the man, who casually revealed what ended up being the true cause of his severe kidney damage.
“The patient mentioned that he was seeing a naturopathic specialist who had prescribed high doses of vitamin D, advising him to take 8 drops of a specific brand daily. He did not have a history of a fragility fracture or documented vitamin D deficiency.
The recommended brand contained 500 IU per drop. Unknowingly, the patient obtained another vitamin D preparation that contained 1000 IU per drop.
The patient was not counselled about toxicity risks and, over a period of 2.5 years, he took 8–12 drops of vitamin D daily, for a total daily dose of 8000–12 000 IU,” Borne describes.
Once the dots started to connect, the man was told to stop supplementing with vitamin D and furthermore, to avoid calcium-rich foods to help slow down his hypercalcemia. Additionally, he was treated with hydroxychloroquine.
“Almost 1 year after diagnosis, his calcium and vitamin D levels have returned to normal, but he is left with stage 3B chronic kidney disease,” says Borne.
What Went Wrong?
This man now lives with a chronic illness for entirely preventable reasons. Had his naturopath properly educated him about the supplements they prescribed, had he kept himself well-informed about his own health, had his family doctor and specialist team taken the team for a more attentive conversation about his lifestyle, this story would have ended very differently.
“Our experience informs us that patients and clinicians should be better informed about the risks regarding the unfettered use of vitamin D…Although vitamin D toxicity is rare, early recognition may prevent chronic complications related to hypercalcemia,” concludes Borne.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.
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