Vitamins, in appropriate amounts, are healthy for the body and necessary for many bodily functions. The vitamins we obtain from our diet are not likely to be harmful. However, you can get too much of a good thing. Vitamins and minerals in excess can be dangerous and even lethal. Read on!
The word vitamins spelled out in tiles with surrounding fruit. Vitamins are vital for bodily functions but too much can be dangerous.
Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients since our body needs them in tiny amounts. They are also essential nutrients since they perform specific roles in the body. The body needs these micronutrients but cannot make them, so we get them from food. Some foods are naturally rich in micronutrients, while others are fortified.
There are thirteen essential vitamins and 15 essential minerals. Vitamin names are by letters, such as A, B, C, and D. Minerals have individual names, such as iron, calcium, sodium, and zinc.
Vitamins can be either water-soluble (dissolve in water) or fat-soluble (do not dissolve in water). Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and the eight B vitamins. The fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E, and K. In excess, the liver and fat tissue store these vitamins.
If we don’t get enough of a specific vitamin, disease occurs. For example, insufficient vitamin C causes scurvy, vitamin D deficiency leads to rickets, and inadequate vitamin A can cause blindness.
On the other hand, too much of a vitamin or mineral can also cause health problems. Some minerals interact with others - too much of one can cause too little of the other. An example of this is sodium (salt) and calcium interaction. Calcium binds to excess sodium and is excreted when sodium levels are high. Thus, too much sodium can cause you to lose calcium.
The Food and Nutrition Board sets the guidelines for recommended daily allowances (RDAs) for vitamins and minerals according to age. These were first published in 1943 to provide standards for good nutrition. RDAs serve as a guide for the amount of nutrients in a typical diet.
The amount of vitamins and minerals in a children’s multivitamin is safe as a single dose. Taken in excess, some of these vitamins are dangerous. Fortunately, this is uncommon and requires ingestion in very high doses.
Vitamin A excess causes nausea, vomiting, blurry vision, and coma.
High Vitamin B3 (niacin) leads to high blood pressure, belly pain, and impaired vision.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) overload can cause neurologic symptoms.
Too much vitamin C or zinc leads to nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea.
Vitamin D excess results in high calcium levels causing nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, and irregular heartbeat.
High-dose Vitamin E can interfere with blood clotting.
Excess calcium can cause kidney damage, muscle weakness, and confusion.
Iron overdose can lead to GI bleeding, coma, and death.
A child holding a handful of pink vitamins. The shapes and colors of vitamins are attractive to little ones so need to be kept out of reach, especially if they contain iron.
Vitamins should never be called candy. They should be treated like prescription medications and kept stored with a childproof cap and out of sight and reach of children. Children should not take vitamins without supervision.
A container of gummy vitamins. Gummy vitamins look like candy but vitamins should never be called candy.
Depending on a child’s diet, they may not need a supplement. You are unlikely to overdose on micronutrients from diet alone. A diet with fortified foods and a supplement can exceed the RDA. If your child eats a well-rounded, varied diet with all the food groups, they are unlikely to need extra vitamins. However, some diets lack adequate micronutrients, and a supplement is appropriate. These include:
Children with a limited diet and picky eaters are not likely to get all that they need. A daily children’s multivitamin with iron is appropriate.
Pubertal girls who don’t drink milk should take a calcium and vitamin D supplement - they need 1500 mg of calcium and 600 IU of vitamin D.
Menstruating girls should be on an iron supplement, as it is hard to get enough of this mineral in the diet. If uncertain, have their iron level checked.
Kids in competitive sports may need a daily vitamin with iron if they don’t have a well-rounded diet or aren’t eating enough calories.
Children who are vegan or vegetarian (don’t eat animal products) are at risk for specific deficiencies, including iron, calcium, vitamin D, B12, and zinc.
Some children with ADD or ADHD can have low iron or ferritin. It may be worth checking these levels; if deficient, supplement with iron.
Children living at high altitudes have a greater risk for anemia and iron deficiency and should have their levels checked.
Taking more than the recommended amount of vitamins and minerals is not typically beneficial and can be detrimental, even deadly. Treat supplements as a potential poison by keeping them out of the hands of little ones.