6

votes

Overdosing on Vitamin A

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created July 21, 2010 at 3:59 AM

We often talk about the amazing nutrition density of organ meat and that they should be part of an optimal diet.

How easy is it, in your opinion, to overdo it with organs like liver and get dangerously high doses of Vitamin A?

According to Wikipedia, it seems it could be very serious:

In general, acute toxicity occurs at doses of 25,000 IU/kg of body weight, with chronic toxicity occurring at 4,000 IU/kg of body weight daily for 6???15 months. However, liver toxicities can occur at levels as low as 15,000 IU per day to 1.4 million IU per day, with an average daily toxic dose of 120,000 IU per day. In people with renal failure, 4000 IU can cause substantial damage. In addition, excessive alcohol intake can increase toxicity. Children can reach toxic levels at 1,500 IU/kg of body weight. In chronic cases, hair loss, dry skin, drying of the mucous membranes, fever, insomnia, fatigue, weight loss, bone fractures, anemia, and diarrhea can all be evident on top of the symptoms associated with less serious toxicity. It has been estimated that 75% of people may be ingesting more than the RDA for vitamin A on a regular basis in developed nations. Intake of twice the RDA of preformed vitamin A chronically may be associated with osteoporosis and hip fractures. This may be due to the fact that an excess of vitamin A can block the expression of certain proteins that are dependent on vitamin K. This could hypothetically reduce the efficacy of vitamin D, which has a proven role in the prevention of osteoporosis and also depends on vitamin K for proper utilization.

I recently watched a lecture with Sally Fallon from the Weston A. Price foundation where she said that most people are deficient in Vitamin A. Seems contradictory with the "75% of people may be ingesting more than the RDA" on Wikipedia. She mentions that beta-carotene is poorly transformed to usable vitamin A and I wonder if the claim in Wikipedia takes beta-carotene into account.

Considering that 100g of chicken liver has 14 000 IU of Vitamin A, it seems very easy to get too much of it. This is just from regular liver consumption, taking cod liver oil would push things even further.

I'm wondering if some people are pushing the benefits of organ meat a bit too much witch might make some people go overboard and develop problems. I guess that if we want to be as close to our ancestors as possible, we should eat maybe 80-90% muscle meat and 10% organs of all kinds. That's just a rough guess considering that animals only have so much organs to eat.

What's your opinion on the issue. Are the RDA too low for some of the fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A or should we really have organs only just sporadically?

5dbc84fc8a8e78e4db7293b58efdde32

(120)

on July 24, 2013
at 02:00 AM

The ridiculous thing to me is that we are taking nutritional advice from our ancestors who only lived to their mid 30s. In my experience that is fu***** retarted. My uncle has cod liver oil every day and beef liver every week and he wonders why he is severely depressed-- he is an organic rancher. Want a good reason to stay at the recommended dose of retinol? It decreases telomere length. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC34517/

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on July 25, 2010
at 05:34 AM

If you read the link I posted, you will see how they talk about the processing of cod liver oil and how much of it has the vitamins removed and other vitamins added in ratios that are not natural. I would not be surprised if all that highly processed cod liver oil is bad for you. THe question is if natural whole liver is bad for you. Just because processed stuff has evidence for being bad does not mean the natural stuff is bad. I personally do not plan to consume any cod liver oil, but natural liver meat is still on the menu at least for now.

15d23403fb836f2b506f4f3ad2c03356

(1219)

on July 22, 2010
at 10:43 PM

Cont'd. The colon cancer study was the one one of the group to measure retinol directly and it seems to support this theory.

15d23403fb836f2b506f4f3ad2c03356

(1219)

on July 22, 2010
at 10:43 PM

There's a whole slew of epidemiological studies from Scandinavia finding that higher vit D levels (e.g, over 40-50ng/ml) are associated with MORE cancer. Since those findings are at odds with literally a mountain of evidence from every other part of the world, one has to think there might be some confounding factor unique to Scandinavia. One good guess is that those with the highest serum D are the ones that drink the most cod liver oil (widely used there). Since some cod liver oils have 10-15X more retinol than vitamin D, accusations have been levied at retinol.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on July 22, 2010
at 04:49 AM

If they come up with more than just that epidemiological study in which they suspect the problem was cod liver oil, I will be paying more attention. But there are so many unknowns in such a study that it could easily be some other confounder or just low quality cod liver oil. Epidemiological studies give hints but not facts. See here for 2 sides of cod liver controversy: http://trusted.md/blog/vreni_gurd/2009/01/18/the_cod_liver_oil_controversy#axzz0uNobqbK9 Might be that liver oil is just not as natural and balanced as eating the whole liver like grok would have done it.

8e3782b68e033763485472f414f507a5

(2433)

on July 21, 2010
at 10:04 PM

Heh, who said anything about a whole beef liver?

15d23403fb836f2b506f4f3ad2c03356

(1219)

on July 21, 2010
at 08:37 PM

Agree fully, though the study I mentioned (the recent colon cancer study that Masterjohn and Vit D council debated) found that among people with vit D levels in the 40s (I think), more retinol spelled bad news...

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on July 21, 2010
at 07:37 PM

One might also keep in mind that liver is not the only organ in an animal. There are other organs to eat! And ironically, grassfed butter and eggs are MUCH higher in vit A than corn fed. It also may be that those who get more vitamin D will be less sensitive to consuming more vitamin A. SOunds like the D and A ratio might be the main point. In the past, I am guessing people spent a LOT more time than 15 minutes in the sun each day and had higher overall levels of D. We still don't know what level of D is 'sufficient.'

15d23403fb836f2b506f4f3ad2c03356

(1219)

on July 21, 2010
at 04:27 PM

I take the vit D council's position seriously. It is an area where more research is needed and all anybody can do now is speculate. Their speculation is valuable. I am open to the other side. Chris Masterjohn represents a reasonable counter-point to the vit D council's position, but he is also speculating. In the meantime, I don't think eating a whole beef liver every week is wise, as it is likely significantly more liver than the average human would have been able to obtain on a weekly basis.

8287c6ddae0d78eae0a09fdd5999617c

(2581)

on July 21, 2010
at 01:12 PM

Vitamin A content in liver varies based on the animal. I think it is mainly the Arctic animals (polar bear, seal, walrus, huskies) that you really have to worry about their livers having dangerous levels of Vitamin A. I don't know why that is. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong.

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5 Answers

7
62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on July 21, 2010
at 04:11 AM

Ironically, I have never heard of anyone overdosing on nutrients when the nutrients only came from eating real food. My guess would be if you eat liver every day for 2 weeks, you would naturally get sick of it and not want to eat it for a while. This would probably happen before you got vit A overload. Remember they are talking about daily intake, not just eating a bunch of liver on one day. Ever wonder why you 'get a taste' for some things on some days and other things on other days? It's one of the ways your body tells you what it wants you to eat.

When paleo is talking about eating 'lots' of organ meats, consider that most people don't eat any at all. One thing I do know is that all of the naturally living tribes always for for the organ meats first. There are probably a lot of reasons for this including they are nutrient dense and also perhaps they might spoil faster. But even wolves and carnivores eat the organs first so I am thinking it's mostly a health thing.

However, I do think you bring up a really good point in that one animal caught and killed is only going to have one set of organs and the bulk of the animal is going to be made of muscle meat. So in paleo times, there was probably a natural limit to how much organ meat could be obtained. I think again, the advice to eat a variety of healthy foods is the best advice. Organ meats are healthy but so are many other foods. Best to get a good mix. Unless you have severe food allergies, you need not put all your eggs in one basket.

2
121a16aded2bed8dca492d3c9662ef4c

on June 07, 2012
at 11:16 PM

I certainly agree that one should exercise caution with supplemental vitamin A. I also agree that a varied diet is important. If the diet is sufficiently varied, then there's virtually no risk of getting too much vitamin A.

The conventional medical wisdom is that sustained doses over 20,000 IU per day are dangerous. That may or may not be true, but the published evidence to support this assertion is pretty weak. Of the published accounts I have read, including a very alarming report about a man who developed total liver failure, none of them validated the vitamin A intake.

I have personal experience with vitamin A, because I took it in very large doses for years in my youth and early 20s. A typical daily dose of fish oil based vitamin A was 100,000. I took it to treat asthma and chronic upper respiratory problems.

At 100,000 IU/d for weeks and months at a time, I had no symptoms of overt toxicity. Sometimes my skin would be slightly dry. I think it contributed to, rather than alleviated, my acne, largely through this skin-drying effect. I didn't get real symptoms of toxicity unless I took 130,000 IU/d and up, at which point I would get the characteristic signs, like bone pain, headache, etc. so I never did that for very long.

Taking these amounts made some of the doctors I saw extremely nervous. We did some liver function tests to be safe, but I always passed with flying colours. There was never a hint of trouble -- no hypercalcemia, nothing. When you consider the standard doses for Accutane (which is isotretinoin, a vitamin A analog) this shouldn't really be surprising.

While taking this amount of vitamin A, I never had any colds.

It was not all wine and roses. I did get small, strange blisters from time to time and seemed unusually prone to warts. I tended to feel cold. Large intakes of preformed vitamin A can have a thyroid-suppressing effect.

My point is this: first, because retinols occur in nature, it's at least likely that humans can tolerate a wide range of intakes, and second, there's probably enormous variability between people. My dad tried, but could never handle the doses I was taking.

Would I take these amounts today? No -- but I went with the best information I had at the time. There does not seem to be any evidence of damage, even temporary.

Given my experience, I suspect the anxiety over vitamin A is misplaced.

2
15d23403fb836f2b506f4f3ad2c03356

(1219)

on July 21, 2010
at 04:21 PM

Liver has a lot of vitamin A, even beef and chicken liver. There's some evidence that more than 1000 IU per day of pre-formed vitamin A, or retinol, is associated with more cancer, among vitamin D sufficient people.

Vit D and Vit A are heterodimers, meaning they both activate the RXR nuclear receptor. A higher retinol intake means more all-trans-retinoic acid (the active form of vit A) --> which means more retinoic acid activtion of the RXR receptor --> which likely means less calcitriol (the active form of vit D) activation of the RXR receptor --> which may mean there is a less robust expression of vitamin D dependent genes.

Epidemiology out of Scandinavia supports this mechanistic line or reasoning, but nobody knows whether it represents a real phenomenon yet.

In the meantime, let evolution be your guide. If you think that hunter gatherers ate the equivalent of one beef liver per week (as somebody here suggested), go for it. Personally, knowing how much food there is in a cow (or auroch) I don't think the average tribe killed anything close to one cow per week per person. Also, hunter-gatherers did NOT eat dairy, a big source of pre-formed retinol. So, if you eat lots of butter, cream, and eggs, you're already eating a high retinol diet. If you add significant amount of liver, you're in the retinol stratosphere.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on July 21, 2010
at 07:37 PM

One might also keep in mind that liver is not the only organ in an animal. There are other organs to eat! And ironically, grassfed butter and eggs are MUCH higher in vit A than corn fed. It also may be that those who get more vitamin D will be less sensitive to consuming more vitamin A. SOunds like the D and A ratio might be the main point. In the past, I am guessing people spent a LOT more time than 15 minutes in the sun each day and had higher overall levels of D. We still don't know what level of D is 'sufficient.'

15d23403fb836f2b506f4f3ad2c03356

(1219)

on July 21, 2010
at 08:37 PM

Agree fully, though the study I mentioned (the recent colon cancer study that Masterjohn and Vit D council debated) found that among people with vit D levels in the 40s (I think), more retinol spelled bad news...

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on July 22, 2010
at 04:49 AM

If they come up with more than just that epidemiological study in which they suspect the problem was cod liver oil, I will be paying more attention. But there are so many unknowns in such a study that it could easily be some other confounder or just low quality cod liver oil. Epidemiological studies give hints but not facts. See here for 2 sides of cod liver controversy: http://trusted.md/blog/vreni_gurd/2009/01/18/the_cod_liver_oil_controversy#axzz0uNobqbK9 Might be that liver oil is just not as natural and balanced as eating the whole liver like grok would have done it.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3

(20807)

on July 25, 2010
at 05:34 AM

If you read the link I posted, you will see how they talk about the processing of cod liver oil and how much of it has the vitamins removed and other vitamins added in ratios that are not natural. I would not be surprised if all that highly processed cod liver oil is bad for you. THe question is if natural whole liver is bad for you. Just because processed stuff has evidence for being bad does not mean the natural stuff is bad. I personally do not plan to consume any cod liver oil, but natural liver meat is still on the menu at least for now.

15d23403fb836f2b506f4f3ad2c03356

(1219)

on July 22, 2010
at 10:43 PM

There's a whole slew of epidemiological studies from Scandinavia finding that higher vit D levels (e.g, over 40-50ng/ml) are associated with MORE cancer. Since those findings are at odds with literally a mountain of evidence from every other part of the world, one has to think there might be some confounding factor unique to Scandinavia. One good guess is that those with the highest serum D are the ones that drink the most cod liver oil (widely used there). Since some cod liver oils have 10-15X more retinol than vitamin D, accusations have been levied at retinol.

15d23403fb836f2b506f4f3ad2c03356

(1219)

on July 22, 2010
at 10:43 PM

Cont'd. The colon cancer study was the one one of the group to measure retinol directly and it seems to support this theory.

0
21735570ad001cd3952f2ee1e3b1a71b

(0)

on June 07, 2012
at 06:04 PM

"The liver of certain animals — including the polar bear, seal, walrus, and husky — is unsafe to eat because it is extraordinarily high in vitamin A. This danger has long been known to the Inuit and has been recognized by Europeans since at least 1597 when Gerrit de Veer wrote in his diary that, while taking refuge in the winter in Nova Zemlya, he and his men became severely ill after eating polar bear liver. In 1913, Antarctic explorers Douglas Mawson and Xavier Mertz were both poisoned (and Mertz died) from eating the liver of their sled dogs during the Far Eastern Party."

0
8e3782b68e033763485472f414f507a5

(2433)

on July 21, 2010
at 12:26 PM

I find the Vitamin A overdose stuff to be way overblown, especially with the Vitamin D Council joining the fray of late.

I eat beef liver once a week.

15d23403fb836f2b506f4f3ad2c03356

(1219)

on July 21, 2010
at 04:27 PM

I take the vit D council's position seriously. It is an area where more research is needed and all anybody can do now is speculate. Their speculation is valuable. I am open to the other side. Chris Masterjohn represents a reasonable counter-point to the vit D council's position, but he is also speculating. In the meantime, I don't think eating a whole beef liver every week is wise, as it is likely significantly more liver than the average human would have been able to obtain on a weekly basis.

8287c6ddae0d78eae0a09fdd5999617c

(2581)

on July 21, 2010
at 01:12 PM

Vitamin A content in liver varies based on the animal. I think it is mainly the Arctic animals (polar bear, seal, walrus, huskies) that you really have to worry about their livers having dangerous levels of Vitamin A. I don't know why that is. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong.

8e3782b68e033763485472f414f507a5

(2433)

on July 21, 2010
at 10:04 PM

Heh, who said anything about a whole beef liver?

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