The Norwegian Food Safety Authority (NFSA) said its monitoring revealed a vitamin D product that contained six times the 20 micrograms (µg) per day limit laid out by Norwegian legislation. While another product contained 16 times the 1,500 µg limit for vitamin A by 16 times, containing 25,000 µg.
Senior NFSA adviser Aina Svenneby said taking such high quantities of fat-soluble vitamins could be dangerous. Excessive vitamin D could lead to hypercalcemia, while very high vitamin A intake carries particular health risks for children and pregnant and menopausal women.
The findings came as part of an investigation into products available from online retailers Ellos and Shopping4net, both of which had been told to halt sales of the dietary products until they could prove that the products complied with Norwegian upper safe intake limits (ULs). Ellos told the authority it would stop selling the products. The NFSA said other products on Ellos contained minerals and vitamins over the national ULs, but it had chosen to focus on vitamin A and D since the associated health risks were greater.
However, the authority said the issue went beyond these two sites to others written in Norwegian but with no Norwegian address listed. It was likely these kinds of products originated from companies based abroad with orders sent to warehouses outside of Norway, in which case they were outside of the NFSA's jurisdiction.
Sending out a warning about the serious health implications was therefore the only thing it could do, it said, meaning it had abandoned plans to impose sales bans on some of the products available at Shopping4net.
Denmark follows suit
The Danish Ministry for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries also sent out a warning on two of the products listed by the NFSA and sold by Ellos – WNT Carotene Mega (vitamin A) and Holistic Vitamin D3 5000 – after it saw two notifications on the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) logged by its neighbour.
According to this notification, the vitamin A product came from the US via Sweden and was distributed to the Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish markets. A vitamin D product was distributed to the same markets and was said to come from Sweden.
Denmark advised consumers to avoid the products until its board of health had fully evaluated the health risks.
Over the limit
In 2012 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) advised a UL for vitamin D of 100 µg per day for adults, an amount which covered all sources, not just intake from supplements.
The Norwegian directorate of health recommends a total daily vitamin D intake of 10 µg per day for children and adults under 75 years, and 20 µg for over 75s. For vitamin A this stands at 900 µg for men, 700 µg for women and 300-600 µg for children.
Exceeding this limit may mean too much calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia), which could lead to heart rhythm disorders, muscle weakness, depression, nausea and vomiting, it says.
Meanwhile high intakes of vitamin A could increase the risk of congenital defects like cleft palates and heart disorders in children and osteoporosis. The NFSA said keeping below the UL of 3,000 µg retinol vitamin A a day when pregnant could avoid this risk for the unborn child, while menopausal women should keep below 1,500 µg a day.
The NFSA warned that products with higher contents than that allowed in food products risked being reclassified as drugs.