An actor revitalising himself with vitamin supplements or a child acing exams thanks to a tasty calcium tablet — these sketches are common advertisements on your television. But if they have inspired you to take your health into your own hands, doctors have plenty of stories that should stop you.
City physicians say more is not always better, especially when it comes to calcium and multivitamins tablets, prescribed to increase bone strength and immunity respectively. Excessive calcium intake could lead to kidney stones, while too many vitamins could bring on a toxic reaction.
In India, about 23% to 39% people suffer from some form of osteoarthritis, a condition where weakened bones need additional calcium. This bone disease epidemic has triggered the misuse and overuse of supplements. Another worrying estimate — one out of 10 cases of kidney stones could be linked to calcium overdose.
“Excess calcium gets deposited in the kidneys causing kidney stones. We have treated patients who have gone overboard with calcium supplements for years and suffered a kidney failure,” said Dr J Bhawani, professor of urology, St George Hospital, Fort.
Doctors warn that no drug, including calcium supplements or multivitamins, should be taken unless a registered medical practitioner prescribes it in a specific dosage. “Patients with low calcium levels start taking supplements indiscriminately, which does more harm than good,” said Dr Shredhar Archik, orthopedic surgeon, Lilavati hospital, Bandra.
Too many vitamins could also book you a hospital berth. “A patient could land up with irregular heart rates, vomiting and diarrhoea,” said Dr Pratit Samdani, a physician at Jaslok hospital, Peddar Road.
Stiffening of arteries, fluctuation of blood pressure, irritability, lack of concentration and muscle weakness are some other reasons to avoid overdosing on supplements. In serious cases, excess calcium can also damage the brain, said Dr Nilesh Gautam, interventional cardiologist at Asian Heart Institute, Bandra.
The healthy way to get your dose of these nutrients is through food. Calcium, if taken with food rich in oxalate (a molecule found mainly in green, leafy vegetables), will not lead to stones. “Traditional food items such as methi (rich in oxalate) eaten with dahi (rich in calcium) will ensure that there is no deposition of minerals in the kidney,” said Dr Pradeep Rao, urologist, Global hospital, Parel.