An illustrated guide

Will Eating a Jar of Gummy Vitamins Kill My 4 Year Old?

In Risk on January 9, 2013 at 11:34 pm

My youngest son LOVES gummy vitamins. When he was four, I tried hard to convince him that they weren’t candy. I was not successful.

After discovering a half empty jar and seeing the guilty look on his face, I knew what had happened.

A quick, slightly panicked call to the pediatrician resulted in being told that I essentially had nothing to worry about. I immediately worried that I didn’t know enough about vitamins, how poisonous they were, and in what quantities.

43% of 4-8 year olds in the United States take some form of vitamin supplement and much of these are in the form of a candy flavored chewable vitamin. Gummy vitamins, in particular, look and taste like candy. This is great if you have a child that needs to take a multivitamin but is a picky eater. It is bad if you are trying to keep the child safe from hypervitaminosis (i.e., vitamin poisoning).

Multivitamins contain water soluble vitamins, fat soluble vitamins, and varying types of minerals.

Water Soluble Vitamins

Water soluble vitamins include Vitamin C and B vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, folate B-6 and B-12. When large quantities of these vitamins are consumed, the excess amount that the body doesn’t use will come out in the urine. These vitamins generally do not pose a health risk because they do not stay in the body for a large amount of time.

Fat Soluble Vitamins

Fat soluble vitamins have greater potential to be harmful. These include vitamins A, D, E and K. Excess amounts are stored in the liver and fatty cells. Compared to water soluble vitamins, these are eliminated from the body much more slowly. By lingering in the body longer, fat soluble vitamins have greater potential to be harmful.

Researchers at China Hong Kong University studied the possibility of vitamin A toxicity from eating too many gummy vitamins. Of the three reported cases of children consuming large amounts of gummy vitamins over the period of a few days, they found no clinical or biochemical complications. None of the children had any of the possible adverse effects including nausea, vomiting, headaches, blurred vision, ataxia, hair loss, skin peeling (!), or bone pain.

If the children had continued to consume such large quantities of gummy vitamins for a longer period of time, there was a greater chance that they would have sustained serious harm. The fact that the vitamins were consumed within a very short period of time was most likely helpful. The body is less efficient at absorbing vitamin A as the dose gets larger.

Minerals

Multivitamins also contain varying minerals- zinc, calcium, iron, iodine, choline, etc. There is a particularly large potential for harm if your child eats too many vitamins that contain iron. For children, iron overdose is a leading cause of poisoning-related injury and death. Luckily, the gummy vitamins that my son ate did not contain iron.

For the most harmful effects of vitamin overdose, the greatest harm comes from consuming either extremely large quantities at one time or from consuming large quantities for a sustained period of time.

If your child eats more than the recommended amount gummy vitamins, be sure to call your doctor. Their response may be to reassure you and tell you to not give your child any more vitamins for a period of time.

As a mom, I’m never satisfied when my doctor tells me not to worry. I want to worry. I want to know all of the awful possibilities, regardless of how small a risk or how insufficient the evidence.

If you want to know all of the gorey, possible adverse effects* of consuming too many Flintstones Gummy Vitamins in one sitting, read below. If you want reassurance, call your doctor. (Which, seriously, you need to do. I’m not a doctor.)

 For 4-8 year olds  
Recommended Amount (2)

Entire Jar (150)

Upper Safe Limit**
 Vitamin A 600 mcg 45,000 mcg 3,000 mcg
Possible harm: Dizziness, nausea, headaches, coma, and even death.
 Vitamin C 30 mg 2,250 mg 650 mg
Possible harm: Diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramps, and other gastrointestinal disturbances.
 Vitamin D 10 mcg 750 mcg 50 mcg
Possible harm: Elevated blood levels of calcium which leads to vascular and tissue calcification in addition to anorexia, weight loss, polyuria, and heart arrhythmias.
 Vitamin E 18 mg 1,350 mg 300 mg
Possible harm: Animal studies have found hemorrhage and interrupted blood coagulation.
 Vitamin B6 1 mg 75 mg 40 mg
Possible harm: Painful, disfiguring dermatological lesions; photosensitivity; and gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea and heartburn.
 Folic Acid 200 mcg 15,000 mcg 400 mcg
No adverse effects have been found.
 Vitamin B12 3 mcg 225 mcg ND***
No adverse effects have been found.
 Biotin 75 mcg 5625 mcg ND***
No adverse effects have been found.
 Pantothenic Acid 5 mg 375 mg ND***
No adverse effects have been reported.
 Iodine 30 mcg 2250 mcg 300 mcg
Possible harm: Burning of the mouth, throat, and stomach; fever; stomach pain; nausea; vomiting; diarrhea; weak pulse; and coma. (Caused by consuming several grams.)
 Zinc 2.5 mg 187.5 mg 12 mg
Possible harm: Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and headaches.
 Choline 38 mg 2850 mg 1000 mg
Possible harm: Fishy body odor, sweating, salivation, hypotension, hepatotoxicity

 *Note: This information is from the Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intakes: Vitamins and also the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements Factsheets. I have not included side effects that were listed as resulting from chronic over consumption. Instead, I have listed only the side effects which seemed to be potential effects of acute consumption. When this was not clearly demarcated, I included the side effects in this list.

**The Upper Safe Limit is the established maximum amount that can be safely consumed without risk of an overdose or serious side effects.

 ***Not determinable due to lack of data of adverse effects.

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