Can You Die from Taking Too Many Multivitamins? Here's What Health Experts Say (2024)

Although we frequently discuss the importance of working with your doctor to stay on top of—and try to prevent or remedy—deficiencies, there can be too much of a good thing when it comes to vitamin and mineral supplements.

Just like eating too much protein and consuming too much fiber can throw your system for a loop, it is possible to overdo it on supplements, whether you pop them as pills, ingest them as powder shaken into water, or score them from fortified foods. (Or a mix of all of the above.)

“Vitamins and minerals are essential compounds found in nature that the body requires for its key functions, including metabolism,” explains William W. Li, M.D., an internal medicine physician and scientist based in Boston and the author of Eat to Beat Your Diet. “Multivitamins are dietary supplements that contain multiple vitamins, and often minerals like calcium and iron, in order to make it convenient to get recommended doses into the body at once using one pill.”

Multivitamins are designed to supplement a balanced diet, not replace it. Typically, they provide up to 100% of the recommended daily value for each nutrient, which is adequate for most people, adds Patricia Bannan, RDN, a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian nutritionist and author of From Burnout to Balance.

“Although vitamins and minerals are essential for health, consuming them in excessive amounts can potentially lead to toxicity,” Bannan says.

What Causes Multivitamin Intoxication?

Although toxicity is rare, it’s possible—and according to Bannan, the risk of intoxication depends on three factors:

  • The type of vitamins and minerals involved
  • Their doses
  • The duration of intake

Multivitamin intoxication is often the result of one of the following supplement mistakes.

Inappropriate Use of Vitamin Supplements

Regardless of whether you do it on purpose or accidentally, “if you take more than the recommended dosage, levels can build up in your body over time,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a Dobbs Ferry, New York-based registered dietitian nutritionist and author of Everyday Snack Tray.

This is a fairly common cause of overdose, Bannan explains, as people might take more than the recommended dosage, “either by misreading labels or due to a misconception that more vitamins leads to better health.”

Taking High Doses of Specific Nutrients over a Prolonged Period

If you happen to consume extra water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C and some B vitamins, your body is usually able to simply pee them out.

“In fact, vitamins like B1, B2, B5, B7 and B12 are considered nontoxic and have no known upper limit because they can be easily eliminated,” Li says.

Still, certain water-soluble vitamins, including niacin (B3) and B6, can cause severe damage when taken in large amounts over time, Largeman-Roth adds, and very high intakes of vitamin C can cause diarrhea and vomiting.

Most fat-soluble vitamins (think vitamins A, D, E and K) are a different story, and taking too many of them as supplements can be toxic. These vitamins are stored in your body’s tissue, meaning that high intakes can accumulate in your body’s fat, making them difficult to eliminate from the body, says Li.

The vitamins and minerals of greatest concern are:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K (although there is limited to no evidence of toxicity; the biggest issues arise among those who take certain medications, including blood thinners)
  • Calcium
  • Iron

Faulty Production or Labeling of Products

“Dietary supplements, including vitamin supplements, are not as tightly regulated as pharmaceuticals. This can lead to production problems like contamination or inaccurate dosing,” Li says.

So, even if you follow the instructions listed on the package, you could inadvertently take too much of a vitamin or mineral, risking toxicity. (This can also lead to unexpected side effects—or no benefit at all.)

“This underscores the importance of buying from reputable sources and looking for third-party testing and certification,” Bannan says.

Always research your dietary supplement to make sure there are no complaints or FDA actions taken against the product, Li advises, which is a red flag and should steer you away from that product. And before you start taking any new supplement, be sure to consult with your doctor and only invest in products that are third-party tested.

Look for a seal on the label from a group like Consumer Lab, NSF International and US Pharmacopeia (USP). These are all trusted dietary supplement certification programs to which companies can voluntarily submit their products for testing (and a stamp of approval that they do actually include what’s listed on the label, as well as nothing else that could be dangerous).

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Can You Die from Multivitamin Intoxication?

Death from vitamin and mineral overdose is extremely rare. However, it can occur if someone consumes very high doses over a short period or consistently overdoses over a long period, according to Bannan. Extremely high doses of vitamin D, vitamin E, and iron, in particular, can be fatal, the experts we spoke to agree.

Usually, you’ll experience a series of symptoms first, which, if not treated, can waterfall into conditions like organ failure or bleeding in the brain before resulting in death.

Warning Symptoms of Multivitamin Intoxication

“The warning signs that someone might have multivitamin intoxication depends on the vitamin or mineral that has been overdosed,” Li says.

Here are the warning signs of potential overdose, according to our experts:

  • Vitamin A: Vomiting, dizziness, blurry vision, abdominal pain, hair loss, joint pain, bone weakness, peeling skin, change in skin color to an orange hue, sleepiness, irritability, liver damage, a congenital disorder in a child born to a pregnant person taking too much
  • Vitamin D: Irregular heartbeat, nausea, vomiting, weakness, seizures, confusion, unusual weight loss, formation of kidney stones, kidney failure, heart problems
  • Vitamin K: Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes), anemia
  • Vitamin E: Muscle weakness, gastrointestinal disturbances, emotional instability, bleeding, blood clots
  • Calcium: Constipation, nausea, vomiting, confusion, impaired kidney function, irregular heartbeat
  • Iron: Vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, abdominal pain (and in severe cases, liver failure, intestinal bleeding, coma)

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, or if you believe that you could have taken extreme amounts of certain vitamins or minerals, your doctor should be able to take a blood test to help pinpoint anything that may be “off.” From there, your medical care team can advise you about the best treatment plan, which almost always includes stopping supplements containing the vitamin or mineral of note.

How to Prevent Multivitamin Intoxication

If you follow these pro tips, vitamin and mineral toxicity will be extremely rare:

  • Look for a seal that confirms third-party testing: This will ensure that the product you’re consuming “actually contains what’s listed on the bottle and the strength and purity of the various vitamins and minerals listed,” Largeman-Roth says.
  • Stick to the recommended dosage: “Look for the daily recommended values on the label, and don’t go beyond them in terms of dosing,” Li says. Your doctor should tell you how much to take when you get their thumbs-up before starting the supplement. If you are uncertain about how much to take, be sure to ask your primary health care provider.
  • Don’t mix and match: Keep vitamins in their original bottle so it’s easier to track what they are and how much you’re taking, Li suggests.
  • Aim to score your vitamins and minerals through food: It can be difficult for individuals with certain diets, such as veganism, to eat enough of certain vitamins and minerals through food. Some medical deficiencies can necessitate supplementation as well. Still, according to Li, your best bet is to “get your vitamins through food, like whole plant-based foods, seafood and meat. This can get you what you need,” he says. Only use multivitamins as a supplement to top off what you are not getting through diet.
  • Watch for sneaky sources: If you’re taking a multivitamin and other supplements, look for other products, such as energy bars, energy drinks or shakes, that may also contain vitamins and minerals, Largeman-Roth advises.

The Bottom Line

Taking too many vitamins and minerals is a very infrequent issue, but it can happen. And with certain vitamins and minerals, it can be dangerous or even fatal.

For this reason, it’s crucial that “before starting any new supplement, consult with a doctor or a registered dietitian, especially if you have underlying health conditions or take other medications,” Bannan says.

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • What happens if you take too many multivitamins?

    If you take too many supplements—or happen to consume a multivitamin that’s mislabeled and contains far more than the recommended dose—you can experience toxicity. The symptoms you may experience depend on the levels and types of toxicity.

  • What are the symptoms of vitamin toxicity?

    The symptoms of vitamin toxicity vary depending on the vitamin or mineral that has been overconsumed. Some warning signs include vomiting, unusual weight loss, excessive hair loss, confusion and fatigue.

  • What is the most likely cause of vitamin toxicity?

    The most common cause of vitamin toxicity is consuming too much of certain vitamins and minerals over an extended period of time. If these build up in the body, they can lead to adverse side effects. In severe cases and with a select few vitamins and minerals, overdosing can be fatal.

  • How can I flush vitamins out of my system?

    If you take too many water-soluble vitamins, your body will simply excrete the extra through your urine. So, with that in mind, ensuring you’re drinking enough water is helpful. Avoid taking other supplements or consuming foods that might trigger your body to retain more of the vitamin or mineral of concern (for example, vitamin D and calcium usually travel as a pair). Most importantly, consult your doctor if you’ve taken too much, and they can offer a personalized treatment plan.

Can You Die from Taking Too Many Multivitamins? Here's What Health Experts Say (2024)

FAQs

Can You Die from Taking Too Many Multivitamins? Here's What Health Experts Say? ›

Taking too many vitamins and minerals is a very infrequent issue, but it can happen. And with certain vitamins and minerals, it can be dangerous or even fatal.

Can taking too many multivitamins be harmful? ›

Any ingredient in a multiple vitamin supplement can be toxic in large amounts, but the most serious risk comes from iron or calcium. Additional risks are associated with large or toxic doses of calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin A.

How to tell if you're taking too many vitamins? ›

Again, while the side effects vary depending on what vitamin or mineral you've taken too much of, other common symptoms can include:
  • Appetite loss.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Weakness.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
May 13, 2024

Which two vitamins pose the greatest risk of toxicity? ›

The fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K, are stored in the body for long periods of time and generally pose a greater risk for toxicity than water-soluble vitamins when consumed in excess.

How many vitamins a day is too much? ›

Tolerable Upper Intake Levels
Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (ULs)
0–6 months19–50 years
Vitamin A600mcg3,000mcg
Vitamin D25mcg100mcg
Vitamin EN/A1,000mg
2 more rows
Sep 27, 2023

Can too many vitamins damage your liver? ›

The two exceptions to the lack of harm to the liver by higher doses of vitamins are vitamin A and niacin, both of which can cause distinctive forms of liver injury when taken in high doses. Specific links to discussions of the risks of liver injury from specific vitamins are given below.

What vitamins should not be taken daily? ›

Three Nutrients to Watch

Dwyer says vitamin D, calcium, and folic acid are three nutrients you may get too much of, especially through supplements. Adults who regularly far exceed the 4,000 international units (IUs) daily safe upper limit for vitamin D might may end up with serious heart problems.

What is considered an overdose of vitamins? ›

Although it's extremely rare to die from a vitamin overdose, there have been reported instances of death related to vitamin toxicity. For example, hypervitaminosis A can be caused by taking one large dose of over 200 mg of vitamin A, or chronic use of more than 10 times the recommended daily intake ( 23 ).

How to flush vitamins out of your system? ›

Yes, by ensuring you consume plenty of water. This will encourage urination, allowing your body to shed the excess vitamin D and calcium more quickly. Prescription diuretics like furosemide can also be helpful. A diuretic is a medicine that increases fluid loss.

Do you pee out excess vitamins? ›

Water-soluble vitamins, like C, B and folic acid, aren't stored in the body and need to be topped up frequently to maintain healthy levels. However, you can only absorb so much and any that your body can't use are passed out of the body when you urinate.

Which vitamin is potentially the most toxic of all the vitamins? ›

Owing to their ability to accumulate in the body, fat-soluble vitamins have a higher potential for toxicity than do water-soluble vitamins. Iron-containing vitamins are the most toxic, especially in pediatric acute ingestions.

Which vitamin has the greatest potential for toxicity? ›

The primary cause of toxicity is the consumption of substantial quantities of vitamin A through dietary supplements and foods. This usually occurs when individuals consume high doses of vitamin A without proper medical supervision. Most diets contain a combination of preformed vitamin A and provitamin A carotenoids.

Can too much of this common vitamin may cause vision loss and liver damage? ›

Chronic toxicity occurs when large amounts of vitamin A build up in your body over a long period of time. Symptoms include changes to vision, bone pain, and skin changes. Chronic toxicity can lead to liver damage and increased pressure on your brain.

Is it bad to take multivitamins everyday? ›

"Taking a reputable multivitamin every day is unlikely to harm you," says Dr. Okunnu. She stresses, though, that they shouldn't be viewed as a pass to eating poorly — since a healthy diet comes with numerous other benefits, including satiety and meeting your daily fiber intake.

What are the side effects of taking multivitamins? ›

Many multivitamin products also contain minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Minerals (especially taken in large doses) can cause side effects such as tooth staining, increased urination, stomach bleeding, uneven heart rate, confusion, and muscle weakness or limp feeling.

What are the symptoms of too much vitamin D? ›

Confusion, apathy, recurrent vomiting, abdominal pain, polyuria, polydipsia, and dehydration are the most often noted clinical symptoms of vitamin D toxicity (VDT; also called vitamin D intoxication or hypervitaminosis D).

Can taking too many vitamins cause weight gain? ›

In a word, no. Vitamins cannot directly increase your weight, as they hardly have any calories. On the other hand, a lack of vitamins—vitamin deficiencies—may lead to adverse weight effects.

References

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