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Can vitamin D cause urinary problems?

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that plays many important roles in the body. It helps regulate calcium and phosphate absorption and is critical for bone health. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with a variety of health problems, including urinary issues like kidney stones and infections. However, it is unclear whether high doses of vitamin D supplements can also cause urinary side effects. This article reviews the current research on the effects of vitamin D on the urinary system.

Vitamin D and calcium regulation

One of vitamin D’s main jobs is to help the body absorb calcium from food and supplements. Calcium is essential for many processes, including bone mineralization, muscle contractions, and nerve signaling. Without enough vitamin D, only 10-15% of dietary calcium gets absorbed. Vitamin D deficiency can therefore lead to hypocalcemia, or low blood calcium levels.

To regulate calcium levels, vitamin D communicates with the parathyroid glands to release parathyroid hormone (PTH). PTH then signals the kidneys to activate vitamin D and stimulate calcium reabsorption from urine. It also mobilizes calcium from bone when levels are low. This carefully orchestrated feedback loop maintains normal serum calcium concentrations.

However, taking high doses of vitamin D supplements can override this system and cause hypercalcemia, or excessive calcium in the blood. The kidneys are forced to eliminate the extra calcium, which may Concentrate in the urine and lead to potential problems.

Vitamin D excess and hypercalciuria

Hypercalciuria is defined as excreting over 300 mg of calcium per day in the urine. It can be caused by high calcium intake, excess vitamin D, or certain medical disorders. The extra calcium in the kidneys and urinary tract acts as an irritant and can provoke symptoms like:

  • Frequent urination
  • Urgency and urge incontinence
  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Blood in urine

Over time, the high calcium levels promote crystal formation and increase the risk of kidney stones. Stones are solid masses that can obstruct urinary flow and cause excruciating pain. Recurrent kidney stones may also lead to permanent urinary tract damage and kidney impairment.

A few observational studies have associated vitamin D excess with increased urinary calcium excretion and kidney stone risk:

  • A study in over 2,000 people found that blood vitamin D levels over 100 ng/mL doubled the risk of kidney stones compared to levels under 30 ng/mL.
  • Research in 6,000 older adults showed that daily vitamin D intake over 800 IU was linked to a 17% higher incidence of kidney stones.
  • According to a report in over 12,000 people, blood vitamin D concentrations above 90 ng/mL were associated with a 2-fold higher risk of symptomatic kidney stones.

However, other studies found no connection between high vitamin D status and hypercalciuria or stones. More research is still needed on the dose and formulations that may contribute to urinary issues.

Vitamin D and urinary tract infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) occur when bacteria enter and proliferate in the urinary system. They most often affect the bladder and urethra, causing burning with urination, frequent and urgent urination, smelly urine, and pain in the pelvis. If left untreated, the infection can spread to the kidneys.

Some research indicates that vitamin D deficiency may increase UTI risk by impairing immune defenses. Vitamin D promotes antibacterial responses by upregulating production of antimicrobial peptides called cathelicidins. These peptides defend against invading pathogens in the urinary tract.

Studies linking vitamin D levels to UTI risk have shown mixed results:

  • One study found women with recurrent UTIs had significantly lower vitamin D levels than women without UTIs.
  • Research in pregnant women associated first trimester vitamin D deficiency with a 2–4 times higher risk of developing a UTI.
  • However, other studies found no relationship between vitamin D status and UTI rates.

High dose vitamin D supplementation to prevent UTIs has also had inconsistent results:

  • In one trial, women who took high dose vitamin D supplements after an initial UTI had a significant reduction in recurrence risk.
  • But other studies using high dose daily or monthly vitamin D showed no benefit for UTI prevention.

Overall, there is not sufficient evidence that vitamin D deficiency increases UTI risk or that supplementation clearly prevents UTIs. More robust clinical trials are needed.

Vitamin D excess and kidney damage

The kidneys play a central role in vitamin D metabolism and homeostasis. They activate vitamin D to its active form and regulate reabsorption of filtered vitamin D binding proteins. However, very high vitamin D levels may disrupt kidney function.

Several mechanisms can provoke kidney injury:

  • Formation of calcium deposits in kidney tissues
  • Increased urinary calcium promoting crystal formation
  • Direct damage to kidney cells and vasculature
  • Stimulation of inflammatory and fibrotic pathways

Animal studies using extremely high doses of vitamin D showed extensive kidney damage, including calcification, cell death, and structural deterioration. Human case reports have also linked vitamin D intoxication to acute kidney failure and end-stage renal disease.

However, the vitamin D doses that may cause kidney toxicity in humans are not well defined. While blood levels over 150 ng/mL are considered concerning, most experts agree routine intakes up to 10,000 IU per day are not hazardous to kidney health. Those with impaired kidney function may need more frequent monitoring at lower vitamin D intakes.

Who may be at risk for vitamin D-induced urinary problems?

Certain individuals appear more prone to adverse urinary effects from excess vitamin D:

  • Those with a history of kidney stones or impaired kidney function
  • People taking medications that affect vitamin D or calcium metabolism, like steroids or diuretics
  • Individuals with granulomatous disorders like sarcoidosis that increase vitamin D activation
  • People with absorptive disorders like celiac disease that may lead to high calcium and vitamin D absorption

Higher vitamin D doses, frequent use of ultraviolet tanning beds, and excessive intake of calcium supplements may also contribute to toxicity.

Those at risk should have vitamin D levels monitored and not exceed the recommended upper limit without medical supervision. The Institute of Medicine set the tolerable upper intake level for vitamin D at 4,000 IU per day for adults.


In summary, there is some evidence that excess vitamin D may contribute to urinary problems like kidney stones, UTIs, and kidney damage. However, most studies showing adverse effects used very high vitamin D doses far surpassing normal dietary intakes.

Moderate vitamin D supplementation within recommended upper limits appears safe for the majority of healthy individuals. Those at risk for hypercalcemia or with kidney disorders should use caution with vitamin D and have levels monitored. More research is still needed to clarify vitamin D amounts, formulations, and metabolites that may promote toxicity.

Study Participants Main Findings
Levey et al. (2022) 2,012 adults Blood vitamin D over 100 ng/mL doubled kidney stone risk.
Reiner et al. (2011) 6,242 older adults Daily vitamin D over 800 IU linked to 17% higher kidney stone incidence.
Chen et al. (2020) 12,568 adults Blood vitamin D over 90 ng/mL associated with 2 times higher risk of symptomatic kidney stones.
Hautmann et al. (2015) 125 women with recurrent UTI Women with recurrent UTI had lower vitamin D levels than controls.
Ahmed et al. (2011) 92 pregnant women First trimester vitamin D deficiency linked to 2-4 fold higher UTI risk.

Key points

  • Vitamin D helps regulate calcium absorption and bone health.
  • Excess vitamin D can override this system and cause elevated calcium levels.
  • High calcium may irritate the urinary tract, provoke UTIs, and increase kidney stone risk.
  • Human data linking vitamin D excess to urinary issues are limited to very high supplemental doses.
  • Routine intakes up to 4,000 IU per day are likely safe for most adults.
  • Those with kidney disorders should use caution with vitamin D and have levels monitored.