Dr. Rath Health Foundation

Dr. Rath Health Foundation

Responsibility for a healthy world Dr. Rath Research Institute 100+ Studies Published In PubMed

Commentary on the Safety of Vitamins

By Dr Aleksandra Niedzwiecki

Time and again, the mass media presents alarming articles about the supposed dangers of taking vitamin supplements. Invariably, such articles are either without any merit or they exaggerate and misinterpret the studies referred to. On the other hand, numerous reports on how an insufficient intake of vitamins contributes to many health problems, as well as the impressive health benefits that result from regular dietary micronutrient supplementation, are much less publicized and often completely ignored.

So what are the facts?

The need for supplementation

Even in countries where access to food is not a problem, vitamin deficiencies are common. One such example, that comes from Poland, is a study published in 2012 by Dr. M Gill and colleagues in the Yearbook of the National Institute of Hygiene (Vol. 63 (4), str.441-446). This study shows that even among female students at the Faculty of Biology and Agriculture, University of Rzeszów, there are serious deficiencies of vitamin D, B vitamins, folic acid, iron, potassium, calcium and magnesium. The same micronutrient deficiencies were also found in male students, and, in addition, a deficiency of vitamin C (76%). These figures are certainly alarming because the shortages of these important micronutrients were present in young people who have at least a theoretical knowledge of the importance of vitamins and minerals for health. The statistics are even more worrying in the case of vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies in children, people suffering from various health problems and in older people, especially those in hospitals or retirement homes.

The safety of supplementation with vitamins

What are the facts when it comes to the safety of vitamins taken in doses higher than the officially recommended dietary allowances (RDAs)? One of the best countries for such an evaluation is the United States, where the use of vitamins and other natural substances is not subjected to such stringent regulation as it is in the EU. In the U.S. anyone can buy supplements containing nutrients in much higher dosages than are allowed in the EU, and often in the very same forms and composition that are restricted by EU regulations. The U.S. is also a country where about 68% of the population of over 330 million people uses vitamins, so it must be a good 'barometer' of their supposed 'dangers'.

So here’s what U.S. statistics tell us about cases of death due to people taking vitamins:

Similarly, in Europe, as confirmed in a statement by Graham Keen, the Director of the Health Food Manufacturers Association (HFMA) in the UK, the use of natural substances has a high level of security here as well: "The figures published by the Food Standard Agency show that there were only 11 cases of adverse reactions to supplements in the past 11 years, most of them in the category of low risk to health. Compared to foods and drugs the supplements have a great record [of safety].”

For comparison:

  • In the same year (2004) about 19,250 people died from an accidental poisoning by chemicals or drugs. (U.S. National Center for Health Statistics)
  • Even intake of a popular non-prescription medicine, like aspirin, resulted in the deaths of 59 people in 2003, while 147 died as a result of taking drugs containing acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol - I wrote about the dangers associated with acetaminophen in a separate article a few years ago). (Watson WA, et al (2004) Am J Emergency Medicine 22 (5), 335-404)
  • What's more, each year about 104,000 people die in the U.S. from the side effects of prescribed drugs taken in accordance with their manufacturers’ instructions (JAMA,1998).

Clearly, therefore, the background regarding adverse reactions to vitamins has to be much more closely evaluated than it is at present, as the information that currently appears in the mass media is generally presented either as a “shock article” or as an indisputable fact (e.g. vitamins shorten lives; poisoning by vitamins etc.) with the apparent goal of spreading fear and confusion in people.

Many associations created between adverse reactions and micronutrients intake are unfounded and ignore the state of health of affected individuals, associated diseases, interactions with drugs, the specific compounds taken (e.g. synthetic vitamin E gives a different effect to natural forms), or whether the vitamin was consumed separately or in a complex with others. But even in the case of taking a single vitamin, which according to our concept of Cellular Medicine is not an optimal approach, the use of extremely high doses of individual micronutrients (exceeding several hundred times the recommended doses) is rare and the effects of their overdose are reversible. Here are some examples regarding the safety of vitamin D (fat-soluble), and vitamins B6 and B3 (soluble in water) that are often referred to in the mass media (I will discuss Vitamin C and other micronutrients later, in a separate publication):

  • Vitamin D – no record of causing death.
    • Toxic effects observed with the use of about 50,000 IU per day for a few months, or taking 300,000 IU in a single dose. If the average supplement contains the U.S. RDA for vitamin D3, which is 600 IU per capsule, one would need to take as many as 83 pills each day to reach the level of 50,000 IU and continue to do so for several months. In practice, this is hardly possible. Even if supplements containing 2,000 IU of vitamin D are available, one would need to systematically take up to 25 capsules a day to reach a dose of 50,000 IU. Of course, high doses of vitamin D can be recommended by a doctor and administered intravenously. In practical terms, a dose of 300,000 IU of vitamin D taken within a single 24 hour period must be administered by a physician.
  • Vitamin B6 – no record of causing death.
    • The upper safe level established in 1998 by the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board  (FNB) is 100 mg per day, while the RDA for people aged 19-70 years is about 1.5 mg. Among the symptoms associated with the use of about 1000 mg of vitamin B6 daily for more than 2.9 years are neuropathies, which reverse after withdrawal of this vitamin. Again, such symptoms have only been observed after taking many tablets per day for several years.
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin) – no record of causing death. 
    • Niacin is often cited as dangerous because of the symptom of 'hot flashes' ​​that are experienced by some patients taking it in high doses. However, whilst the increase in influx of blood resulting from it can bring the sensation of heat, this vitamin is very effective in relaxing blood vessels. Niacin is involved in more than 400 different metabolic reactions in our body cells and is particularly effective in the regulation of lipid metabolism by reducing the so-called "bad cholesterol" (LDL) and increasing the 'good cholesterol' (HDL). Doctors have been recommending niacin in doses of about 2000-3000 mg daily for nearly 50 years. In many patients it does not cause any adverse symptoms. On the other hand, some people, sensitive to its effects, can get hot flashes even at much lower doses, especially when taking niacin with coffee or on an empty stomach.
    • Hot flashes can be mitigated if the dose of niacin is increased gradually over several weeks. Also, lower doses taken together with vitamin C have a good effect in reducing blood cholesterol whilst at the same time lowering the risk of hot flashes. The RDA for niacin is 20 mg per day and the upper intake dose has been set at 35 mg by the U.S. authorities. However, popular multi vitamin B supplements are available on the U.S. market that contain each of the B group vitamins, including niacin, in amounts of 50 mg (Vitamin B50 complex supplements) or 100 mg (Vitamin B100 complex supplements).

Most of the reported side effects of vitamins have usually been associated with taking large doses of individual micronutrients (particularly synthetic versions) for a long time.  However, all the metabolic pathways in the cells of our body are based on the interaction (synergy) of many different micronutrients. Our innovative approach – Cellular Medicine – clearly shows that optimal health cannot be achieved by means of a single substance. Instead, for optimal and balanced cell function, we need a wide variety of carefully selected natural compounds. Natural compounds combined in synergy with each other do not require taking extreme doses for maximum effectiveness. Taking advantage of micronutrient synergy in this way also eliminates any adverse effects and increases health benefits.

In conclusion, vitamins are very safe substances and their benefits to our health are indisputable. Interestingly, therefore, the benefits of adding vitamins to foods for dogs and cats are not subjected to such prominent criticism as they are for human beings. On the contrary, in fact, vitamins are presented as being beneficial for the health and longevity of our pets.

Ultimately, the reality that the mass media is not sharing with you is that vitamins are dangerous ONLY to the pharmaceutical business, which sees that they undermine its disease market and reduce the outlet for dangerous patented pharmaceutical drug compounds.

For more information contact:

Dr. Rath Research Institute
1260 Memorex Drive
Santa Clara
CA 95050