Do vitamins kill you?

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Do vitamins kill you?

We know that vitamins are essential for life and vitamin deficiencies can definitely hurt us. But do vitamins kill you?

Our intuition is that if a little bit of something is good for us then a bit more can’t hurt. Right?

Wrong. After putting on my pharmacists’ hat and finding some trustworthy studies on high dose vitamins, it was surprising to find that research shows routinely taking mega doses of four vitamins might actually harm us.

So here are the top four vitamins that you should NOT take HIGH doses of – unless you have been advised by a doctor or pharmacist…

1) Vitamin A and beta carotene. Vitamins A, C, and E are all anti-oxidants, which are often promoted for their supposed anti-cancer properties. However, in a large study supported by the US National Cancer Institute, it has been found that smokers who take vitamin A are more likely to get lung cancer than those who don’t. So it is advised that smokers take supplements without vitamin A… or just give up smoking entirely.

Vitamin A plays an important role in vision, but too much can be toxic. An increase in skull pressure, skin irritation, liver damage, joint pain and even death has been linked to increased levels of vitamin A. Possibly the most famous case of vitamin A toxicity occurred in the early polar explorers, who ate the livers of their sled dogs or polar bear not realising that their livers had excessively high amounts of vitamin A. Antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson barely survived and the rest of his colleagues died – this was almost certainly due to excess levels of vitamin A

This is why, at Feelgood Island, we created our bespoke range of vitamins using the highest quality ingredients. Due to the conflicting research on its benefits to health, we have created a product free from Vitamin A to give you peace of mind.

2) Vitamin C – In the 1700s, Scottish doctor James Lind famously did an experiment that proved citrus fruit containing vitamin C cured scurvy. Vitamin C gained greater popularity through the efforts of Linus Pauling, who published a book in 1970 incorrectly recommending high doses of vitamin C to prevent the common cold.

Vitamin C is perhaps the most popular single vitamin supplement available. But, as the saying goes, you can have too much of a good thing. Although Vitamin C supports the immune system and is generally safe, large doses of 2000mg or more can increase the risk of kidney stones, which can be unbearably painful.

3. Vitamin E. Long touted as an anti-cancer agent, vitamin E is a very popular supplement. A study of 35,533 men looked at vitamin E and its potentially harmful effects on the body, in particular, prostate cancer. The authors found men taking HIGH doses of vitamin E had an increased cancer risk. That’s right, the opposite effect!

In a large review conducted at Johns Hopkins University, Edgar Miller and Lawrence Appel found that people who take high amounts of vitamin E have a higher overall risk of death. The Mayo Clinic summarises the evidence in this way:

“Evidence suggests that regular use of HIGH-DOSE vitamin E may increase the risk of death from all causes by a SMALL amount.”

Altogether, vitamin E supplementation did not affect all-cause mortality. Those on the LOW-DOSE (below 400 IU) had a significantly smaller fatality rate. Looking closely at the dosing, mortality increased with doses above 150 IU/d. But every cloud has a silver lining. A non-significant DECREASE in mortality was seen with doses below 150 IU/d.

And that’s why the Feelgood Island pharmacists recommend not taking more than 150 IU daily of vitamin E. Our very own Energy & Wellbeing multivitamin has 44 IU of vitamin E, so you know you’re getting the right levels of nutrition to meet your body’s needs.

4. Vitamin B6. Taking EXCESSIVE vitamin B6 supplements for a long time can also be harmful and it is recommended that we take small doses over short periods of time. NIH’s website explains:
“Taking HIGH levels of vitamin B6 from supplements for a year or longer can cause severe nerve damage, leading people to lose control of their bodily movements.”

The UK Department of Health states that long term intakes of 10mg of vitamin B6 may lead to mild tingling and numbness. So, although it doesn’t kill, it can still carry harmful, uncomfortable side effects that we’d all rather do without.

When it comes to choosing the right vitamin(s) it’s hard to know which product is right for you. Having knowledge of which vitamins can be harmful is a great way of knowing what isn’t right for you. Knowing what you don’t want can be as good as knowing what you do want. We suggest safe doses over longer periods is best when introducing supplements to your daily routine.

And if in doubt, consult your doctor or pharmacist. It’s what we’re here for.

What do you think? Leave a comment below. Ask a question.

[1] Can Fam Physician. 2005 Jun 10; 51(6): 829–831. Vitamin E might increase risk of death.

[2] JAMA. 2011;306 (14):1549-1556. Vitamin E and the Risk of Prostate Cancer. The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT)

[3] Ann Intern Med. 4 January 2005,142 (1):37-46. Meta-Analysis: High-Dosage Vitamin E Supplementation May Increase All-Cause Mortality.

[4] N Engl J Med 1994; 330(15):1029-35. The Alpha-Tocopherol Beta Carotene Cancer Prevention Study Group. The effect of vitamin E and beta carotene on the incidence of lung cancer and other cancers in male smokers.

[5] Vitamin B6 Fact Sheet for Consumers. National Institutes of Health, Office of dietary supplements.

[6] Food supplements Label advisory statements and suggested reformulations. Department of Health. 2011



FeelGood Island
FeelGood Island
As pharmacists we believe in improving people's health. Unsatisfied with the value and complexity of available supplements, we decided to develop our own range of products with quality, convenience and value in mind.
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