Calcium and vitamin D risky in large doses

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Calcium and vitamin D risky in large doses

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by Keely Chalmers, KGW staff

kgw.com

Posted on February 17, 2011 at 6:00 PM

Updated Saturday, Feb 19 at 10:54 AM

PORTLAND -- For years, calcium and vitamin D supplements have been touted as the key to a healthier body. But a new medical report shows too much of the vitamins may actually increase your risk of heart disease and cancer.

You can find them in milk, orange juice, even breakfast cereal. And if you want them in pill form you've got several to choose from: Calcium for stronger bones and vitamin D for a variety of benefits.

"I just came from the doctor's and she said, 'Take vitamin-D.' She said it helps with colds," said Portlander Gena Berry, who takes several supplements.

In addition to fighting colds, vitamin D has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

But new findings by the Institute of Medicine show that most of us don't need calcium or vitamin D supplements, and that taking too much of them could actually be harmful.

"Very few of our patients are on calcium supplements so we discourage them in most cases," said Dr. Miles Hassel, director of Providence Integrative Medicine.

He agrees with the expert committee's findings on calcium, saying too much can cause kidney stones or worse.

"In multiple studies when people were taking high amounts of calcium along with calcium in the diet their risk of heart attack went up," said Hassel.

The committee's recommended daily allowance for calcium is 1,000 milligrams for adults.

Marnie Loomis, with the National College of Natural Medicine, calls that a safe recommendation. Loomis says depending on people's health history, such as whether they have a family history of osteoporosis, they would likely need to take more than that.

"It’s really an individual need," said Loomis.

But when it comes to vitamin D all the health experts we talked to agreed that higher levels can be beneficial especially here in Oregon, with such little sunlight.

"The main source of vitamin D is from the sun and because we don't get it that much we find that most people are deficient in vitamin D levels," said Livia Lee, a naturopathic doctor at Pharmaca.

The new recommended daily allowance for vitamin D is 600 units for both kids and adults. The committee concluded that very high levels above 10,000 units can cause kidney and liver damage.

But all three doctors we spoke with would recommend everyone take somewhere in between.

"1,000-2,000 units of vitamin D is probably pretty safe," said Dr. Hassel.

The bottom line is: before swallowing that supplement, consider what you're eating.

You very well could be getting what you need in your food. And experts say, if you do opt to supplement, talk to your doctor first and find out how much is safe for you. Because when it comes to vitamins, more isn't always better.

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