Calcium & Vitamin D Side Effects


Most people know that calcium prevents osteoporosis, a bone-weakening disease, and vitamin D prevents rickets, a bone deformity condition in children. While the list of the benefits of normal levels of calcium and vitamin D can go on and on, too much of a good thing may result in detrimental side effects.

Common Side Effects

  • "Milk does a body good," has been the slogan of the National Dairy Council for years, and they appear to be right. Fortified milk, not only is a good source of calcium, but also a ready source of vitamin D. In a study conducted by Columbia University in New York City, nearly 85 percent of the elderly entering nursing homes had symptoms of osteoporosis. They concluded that this bone-weakening disease, which causes bone fractures and tooth loss, was attributed to low vitamin D. While low levels of vitamin D can lead to bone disease, high levels can cause heartburn, difficulty swallowing, chest pain, stomach pain, nausea and constipation.

    The 1994 National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference on Optimal Calcium Intake noted that calcium consumption up to levels of 2,000mg per day should be safe for most people. Although temporary, higher levels of the mineral is also known to cause constipation, belching, bloating and gas. High levels of calcium can cause also kidney stones. It is not necessary to cut back on dairy products, however, if you do get kidney stones. Normal levels, as opposed to low levels, of calcium in your diet actually reduce the risk of kidney stones.

    Gallstones may also result from excess calcium in the diet. While higher levels of calcium seem to prevent gallstones in men, it is just the opposite with women. Alan Hoffman, M.D., Ph.D, professor at University of California, says that animal studies indicate that diets high in calcium enhance the formation of gallstones.

Rare Side Effects

  • Vitamin D is stored in fat cells. Too much of the vitamin taken over long periods of time, can cause calcium buildup in the soft tissues of the body. This, in turn, can result in irreversible kidney damage. Additionally, large amounts of vitamin D can lead to birth defects.

    Conversely, inadequate levels of vitamin D can inhibit intestinal absorption of calcium, causing hypercalcemia, or an excess of calcium in the blood. Symptoms include headache, anorexia, nausea, vomiting, gastrointestinal disturbances, abdominal cramps, dry mouth, metallic taste, weakness, fatigue, muscle and bone pain, ataxia, tinnitus, and vertigo. More severe stages of hypercalcemia may show up as mental confusion, hypertension, cardiac arrhythmias, seizures and renal insufficiency.

Calcium Dosage Recommendations

  • The daily adult intake level for calcium, set by the Consensus Development Conference of the National Institutes of Health is 1,000mg taken with food. Men and women over the age of 65 should up their dosage to 1,500mg a day.

Vitamin D Dosage Recommendations

  • The daily recommended dosage of vitamin D is 400 IU. Because vitamin D can be so toxic in large amounts, never take more than 600 IU daily, especially during pregnancy, unless prescribed by a doctor. Vitamin D may also pass into breast milk, so always consult a physician if breastfeeding.

Drug Interactions

  • Mineral oil can decrease the absorption of vitamin D. Do not take the vitamin with antacids and laxatives. Prescribed medications such as digoxin, phosphate binders and thiazide diuretics should not be taken in combination with vitamin D.

    Do not take calcium in the morning if you are also taking a bisphosphonate like Fosamax, Actonel or Didronel that day, as the calcium will inhibit the medication's absorption. Calcium can also inhibit iron absorption and absorption of thyroid medication. Take thyroid medication in the morning, and delay calcium supplementation until afternoon or evening.

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