Stop Poppin' Those Vita-Gummies...Signs You Could Be Overdosing on These 6 Common Supplements

Gabrielle Kassel is a New York based writer who has a deep affinity for weight-lifting, living mindfully, and the em-dash. She has been published at Women’s Health Magazine where she worked on the online editorial team, Feather Magazine where she was a contributing health writer, and ICE NYC where she works as the social media editor. In her free time she can be found reading self-help books, making soup, and practicing hygge.

Not only can you find a multi-gummy with many vitamins and minerals, but there is a gummy version of many single supplements such as D, B12, and iron. These single supplements can even be disguised as mints. And gum. Rejoice! Supplements you can chew up and spit out! Candy that’s good for you! Vitamins that make your breath smell minty-fresh!

But... is it possible to OD on vita-gummies? 

It’s hard to overdose on most nutrients from food (which is where we’re ideally supposed to get all of our nutrition). But the pharmacological doses you get from supplements are a whole other story….

The Institute of Medicine determines the daily minimum and maximum levels of nutrients a person should get from both food and added supplements. In general, supplements can offer from around 10 percent of the recommended daily level to up to 10,000 percent of the DRI for some nutrients. That’s a huge range. But gummy multivitamins, at least, seem to skew slightly lower, ranging as low as 33 to 50 percent of the DRI for some nutrients to 100 to 250 percent for others… to be clear while the percentages aren’t as high as 10,000 percent (that’s TEN THOUSAND PERCENT of what you need in ONE DAY , that means that a gummy serving could be giving you more than DOUBLE  your vitamin and mineral needs in a day.

Are all the cap locks alarming you? To a certain extent, they should. Vita-gummy overdose is no joke.

The good news: taken as directed, these supplements are safe. The bad news: candy is still candy… even if it’s vita-candy. The takeaway: It is possible to overdose on supplements and vitamins… and is especially easy if they are in gummy form and you’re inclined to chew on double, or triple, the recommended serving...

Here are the signs and symptoms of supplement overdose you should watch out for, broken down by the 6 most common vitamins and minerals:

Calcium

As women, we often assume that we need more of this important bone-strengthening supplement than we actually do, and end up stocking up on calcium capsules which we take with varying consistency. While calcium-rich foods (think: dark leafy greens and dairy-filled foods) can help protect our hearts (#healthyhearthealthylife), calcium supplements (if taken in excess) can have a negative impact.

The symptoms of a one-time overdose from accidentally taking too many calcium supplements or calcium-containing antacids at one time include stomachache, constipation or diarrhea, headache, nausea and vomiting. But consistent overdosing can ultimately lead to mental confusion, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure and even coma. Chronic high blood levels of calcium can result in kidney stone formation, kidney damage and failure, abnormal heart rhythms, calcification in areas of the body other than bone tissue, dementia and coma. Additionally, because all of the vitamins and minerals and our bodies interact and work together, too much calcium can also interfere with iron absorption.

So let’s ditch our morning Calcium supplements (until we’ve talked to our Doc) and add some Calcium to our breakfast by adding some kale or spinach to our omelettes or smoothies… deal?


IRON

Ah, the supplement all vegans and vegetarians are sick of Doctors, friends, and insensitive relatives asking about. Let it be known once and for all that red meat is not the only source of iron! In fact, iron can be found naturally in foods such as spinach, chickpeas, lentils, and cashews. So what’s the deal with iron? It’s the mineral necessary for red blood cells and the prevention of anemia. So yeah, that stuff is important.

But an iron overdose can lead to death, and is actually (and surprisingly) the leading cause of fatal poisoning in children younger than 5.  Overdosing, is the major reason why iron supplements are rarely disguised as gummies.

However, kids aren’t the only ones who can overdose on iron; in adults, iron overdose is typically in the form of a one-time acute overdose as opposed to a gradual excess. The symptoms of iron overdose (often referred to as iron poisoning) usually becomes evident within 6 hours after an excessive amount of iron is swallowed. Iron corrodes our intestinal lining and is a direct irritant to the stomach. The symptoms include severe vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and abdominal cramping and pain. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, adult women of childbearing age should get at least 18 mg of iron per day through food and supplements. Pregnant women need more, 27 mg, and adult men require get less, 10 mg.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A supplementation may enable you to delay getting reading glasses since it supports the function of the seeing, but a severe vitamin A overdose can actually cause death (Woah), hair loss, bone loss, confusion, and even liver failure. SELF.com reports that “unlike water-soluble types like vitamins B and C, which you'll typically just pee out if there's an excess in your system, vitamin A is stored in your body fat”. It is easier to build up toxicity of vitamins that we can’t just pee out, which makes sense.  Normally, a Vitamin A overdose progresses slowly as it accumulates in the body, particularly since it is a fat-soluble vitamin and is stored in our fat cells.  The initial signs of a vitamin A overdose may emerge as rather benign health issues: dry, rough skin, cracked lips, and hair loss (“Hi Doc, it’s me, Gabby, am I OD-ing on Vitamin A… or do I just have #winterskin). Latter symptoms of Vitamin A overdose may include irritability, headache, high level of liver enzyme in blood, and liver disease.  In addition to a slow progressing vitamin A overdose, there is such a thing as an acute vitamin A overdose. As you remember from reading above, acute overdose means taking A LOT of Vitamin A All. At. Once. as opposed to a   g r a d u a l  build up in the body… Acute overdose of Vitamin A is a far more serious type of vitamin overdose with symptoms ranging from vomiting, high pressure in the brain, and even death. Which, while the side effects of Vitamin A could be fatal, according to to Mayo Clinic, Vitamin A overdose is super rare in humans.  

But rest assured, eating natural occurring foods rich in Vitamin A (as a rule of thumb: green and orange vegetables), will not result in toxicity, instead it is primarily supplementation that leads to toxicity.

Vitamin D

This sunshine vitamin is all the buzz with its promises to keep our bones strong and aid in the circulation of calcium and phosphorus. However, too much Vitamin D can cause permanent damage to our kidneys and heart, such as heart rhythm abnormalities. While these long-term damages are unlikely, the short term symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and alternating constipation and diarrhea.  A vitamin D overdose is most serious for pregnant women and has been shown to pregnancy has been shown to increase the potential of mental abnormalities in babies.  

Though the recommended daily requirement of vitamin D is around 1,000 IU, many doctors believe this is too low and regularly prescribe more to those who are vitamin D deficient.  So what rule should you follow when taking a Vitamin D supplement? The Guidelines written by the Osteoporosis Society of Canada recommend Vitamin D in 400-500 IU per day for people up to age 50, and 800 IU per day for people over 50.

Vitamin E

Do any of you remember back in 2004 when the much-publicized meta-analysis from Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions concluded that high doses of vitamin E (more than 400 IU a day) taken long term may slightly increase the overall risk of dying… and everyone went into panic about the evil vitamin? Welp, if you’ve been avoiding green leafy vegetables, nuts and nut butters, and avocados since 2004… you’ve been doing your body (and mouth, because YUM) a disservice. Vitamin E is an important vitamin required for the proper function of many organs in the body. It is also an antioxidant, which means it helps to slow down processes that damage cells. While most of the benefits of Vitamin E are invisible (cue: “You can’t see Vitamin E, you feel it”), some take Vitamin E supplements that near the upper limit of 1,000mg of Vitamin E per day recommendation.

Vitamin B

The functions of the vitamin B group range from supporting the rate of metabolism, promotion of healthy skin and hair, as well as memory support. (Who needs sudoko when you’ve got Vitamin-filled foods??)  Since the vitamin B group is responsible for all of that good stuff, can you really get too much resulting in a vitamin B overdose?  With some of the B vitamins, unfortunately, yes. Normally, excess B vitamins are excreted by the kidneys, but high doses of vitamin B supplements can lead to an overdose.

The B vitamin complex include vitamins known as B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12, or as they are also called: thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, biotin, folic acid and cobalamin… and the effects of overdosing on each are slightly different:

Overdosing on thiamine (B1) can result in a headache and feelings of weakness, and in extreme cases a rapid, irregular heartbeat and low blood pressure. Overdosing on riboflavin (B2) and cobalamin (B12) can result in an increased rate of allergic reactions (swelling of the face or tongue, hives and difficulty breathing. Overdosing on niacin (B3) can result in blurred blurring of vision and stomach pains. High doses of pantothenic acid (B5) can cause diarrhea but there are no known toxicities associated with biotin (B7) intake (#blessed). Toxic levels of pyridoxine (B6) have been known to cause a variety of muscular or nerve problems including clumsiness, a loss of muscle coordination and even paralysis. Overdosing on folic acid (B9) can cause damage to your central nervous system.

To get the B vitamins you need without risking overdosing either stick to the recommended amounts on the supplement labels or eat a well balanced diet. The B vitamins are widely distributed throughout the different food groups, so if we're eating a varied, balanced diet that includes foods from all food groups, we are likely getting as many vitamins as we need.

Overview

Realistically, if you’re eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables you probably don’t need to be taking supplements or vitamins. So if you are craving gummy bears or gummy worms, go out and eat those. It’s better to eat candy in moderation than to overdose on gummies and build up potentially-toxic levels of certain supplements and vitamins.

For a more information about the recommended daily doses of common vitamins and supplements please check out This Daily Vitamin Chart by Vitamin Insights.

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