Have I poisoned myself?
November 10, 2008 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Have I poisoned myself?

First things first - obviously I will see a doctor if the following persists, and obviously I have quit taking the vitamins.

I'm 32, female, in good health, and on no medications. I get a cold maybe once a year but am generally pretty strong and healthy.

About a week ago I started feeling vaguely crappy, which I attributed to overwork + possibly coming down with something. Because I could not be sick on Election Day (volunteering/party), I took the usual steps to stave off a cold: upped my water and veggies intake, cut out what little junk food I eat, lowered my caffeine a tad, and started taking vitamins.

I kept feeling crappy, but with no escalation into actual, recognizable sickness. Now I've realized the vitamins are five years expired. Whoops. I'm wondering if any of the following symptoms can be attributed to an element in multivitamins which becomes toxic after expiring?

In order of most to least intense, I have:

- sporadic but INTENSE fatigue. This slams me in the early afternoon, which is when I normally feel a lull, but this is different and crippling. I did not cut my caffeine intake enough to be feeling this exhausted. Earlier in the week I would take a 2-hour coma nap; for the past few days I've been pushing through it with willpower and physical activity. The desire to pass out does go away within about 20 minutes, but overall I'm feeling pretty low-energy throughout the day, with or without the nap.

- severe and crippling anxiety, out of whack from the actual events of my life. Occasional shaky hands, racing pulse. I have no history of panic or anxiety attacks. I suffered from (undiagnosed but obvious) depression many years ago, but that's not what this feels like.

- an assorted festival of "head effects" - dizziness, headache, fuzzy thinking, tingly scalp, generally not feeling like myself.

- slight fever

- body aches

- loss of appetite

- vaguely sore throat

These are chewable 500 mg vitamin c tablets, and Publix brand children's chewable "plus iron" vitamins (shut up, I like them). I've been taking one of each every day for a week; before now, I took one every 2 weeks or so. The "head effects" are at their worst an hour or so after consumption, which was my first clue.

I can list the ingredients if that will help, but it's the standard rundown, and I'm just wondering if there's an ingredient commonly found in chewable vitamins which will poison you after it degrades.

Any help will be very much appreciated.
posted by jessicapierce to Health & Fitness (19 answers total)
The expiration date on drugs is the amount of time that a drug or vitamin works best, after that the level of effectiveness degrades, however unlike food, drugs and vitamins do not become "toxic". Likely the vitamins you were taking were simply having no effect and you are still sick. I think the idea that you are getting headaches and things that are clearly symptoms of an ongoing battle with a bug of some kind is probably more a placebo effect. I'm not saying you're making up your symptoms, rather you're falsely equating them with the vitamins on the false assumption that like many other products they "go bad" which they do not. I'd suggest simply seeing a doctor and finding out if it's not flu, mono, or something else that more likely matches up the symptoms you are having. And of course throw out the vitamins since they won't serve you anymore.
posted by genial at 10:11 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

See this askme. I'm no expert, but it looks like expired vitamins just lose potency and don't increase in toxicity.
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:11 AM on November 10, 2008

This is specific to drugs, but the same ideas hold true with vitamins.

Provided they were stored properly, it's not the vitamins making you sick.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:12 AM on November 10, 2008

You started feeling sick before you took the vitamins. My non-medical opinion is that you've got a bug of some kind, you're overtired and making it worse and you should see a doctor because the symptoms have already persisted. A week of feeling ill is a sign you should see your doctor.
posted by scabrous at 10:13 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a side note you might pursue the idea that you are allergic to something contained within the vitamins. Cheapest test to this effect (and your original theory) is to purchase brand new vitamins and see if the symptoms come an hour after taking them. If they do it would rule out the idea that there is anything toxic in expired vitamins. It might not rule out the idea I originally had which was you are sick and simply experiencing the effects of that sickness and equating them to bad vitamins.
posted by genial at 10:15 AM on November 10, 2008

You're fine with regards to the vitamins. Most are water soluble and won't stick with you for very long. You have to really work at ODing.

That being said, for the most part if you eat right they're useless. A multivitamin may help a bit, for the things you don't get from time to time, but in general they aren't necessary.
posted by aleahey at 10:23 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

You may want to get tested for Mono - the low grade fever and general malaise is a common symptom. You won't poison yourself with old vitamins.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:23 AM on November 10, 2008

The symptoms you describe could be a lot of things, some of them not so nice. I do not think that you poisoned yourself; old vitamins do not turn toxic like that, and a poisoning of that variety would show up intestinally, i.e. diarrhea.

On the mild end, it could just be dehydration. You could be pregnant. As one who hates doctors, I would explore those two avenues yourself by drinking more water and taking a pregnancy test (unless that isn't a possibility, of course).

Fatigue can be a warning sign for something serious, so I would go to a doctor. Lupus and Lyme disease can leave one feeling dead tired like that.
posted by frecklefaerie at 10:26 AM on November 10, 2008

My not-a-doctor guess is, you have the flu.
posted by orthogonality at 10:31 AM on November 10, 2008

A couple of weeks ago I had these symptoms and also worried I'd poisoned myself (with rotten fish in my case). However, they turned out to just be the result of a mild flu.
posted by melissam at 10:35 AM on November 10, 2008

Dehydration is a possibility; pregnancy is not.

I'm open to the idea of placebo effects, but I've been feeling these symptoms for a week and only this morning came up with the vitamin theory, on seeing the expiration date. However, once I started thinking that this was something other than a cold, I've been hyper-aware of every little bodily complaint. So probably half of this is bog-standard stuff I ordinarily wouldn't have thought twice about.

Anyway, thanks for putting my mind at ease regarding the toxicity issue. I was worried I'd come back to a page full of "everybody knows about old-riboflavin toxin, you're SO DEAD."
posted by jessicapierce at 11:05 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

You sound like you have the cold (flu?) I just got over. It was a doozy.. came on slow but steady then kicked the crap out of me for a week. The tail end of it lasted about another 2 weeks.
posted by Frasermoo at 11:30 AM on November 10, 2008

Nth the "vitamins don't become toxic" opinion. They may get stale, but they don't get toxic.

That is, they don't get any more toxic than they are already. Both iron and vitamin C have very, very low daily requirements. Even women in their reproductive years only need 1-1.5mg/day of iron and no more than 500mg of vitamin C. Many vitamin supplements have way, way more than this. I've seen vitamin C pills with 2000% of your daily dose.

Vitamin C is generally pretty innocuous except in really extreme levels, but you could easily be taking several times your daily dose of iron, which can have negative side-effects.

Odds are it's nothing, but it is something to consider.
posted by valkyryn at 11:45 AM on November 10, 2008

I think it could be the vitamins, but not because they have expired.

I think you could have a vitamin B12 deficiency, possibly coupled with a reduced ability to absorb B12. Back in April, someone asked a very similar question. My answer then, in part, was:

I also think there is a strong possibility you could have a vitamin B-12 malabsorption problem, which can lead to a deficiency no matter how much you take orally. When you lack the ability to absorb B-12 (which can happen for a variety of reasons, and is often correlated with a lack of stomach acid, which can in turn give rise to food sensitivities) folate can have a toxic effect. My Merck Manual says "Giving folic acid (instead of B-12) to any patient who is B12- deprived is contraindicated because it may result in fulminant neurologic deficit." I think the anxiety, depression, and fatigue you had could be a mild version of this kind of B-12 deficiency driven reaction to folate.

Later in the thread, sero_venientibus_ossa contradicted this:

For the record, B12 deficiency does not cause Folate toxicity. B12 deficiency and Folate deficiency share many of the same mechanisms and clinical manifestations, except that B12 deficiency can also result in neurological damage. The reason Folate isn't given to someone with those clinical manifestations is that it's possible they have a B12 deficiency (similar signs/symptoms). If Folate is given the patient may feel better, but the neurological damage due to B12 will continue. That's why B12 is always tried first.

I wish he or she had provided a reference, but when I looked around online, I couldn't find a site willing to state the danger of taking folate on top of a B12 deficiency in anything like as dire terms as my 1999 Merck used, so perhaps the received view has changed considerably.

Nevertheless, I think the reaction you think you may have had to those multivitamins is in the ballpark for a folate reaction to a B12 deficiency/malabsorption problem, and that you ought to have your B12 levels checked out.
posted by jamjam at 1:15 PM on November 10, 2008

Did you do a ton of volunteering for the election? You may just be exhausted. I know a lot of people including myself who are totally wiped out after months of phoning/canvassing/etc!
posted by leslies at 1:22 PM on November 10, 2008

If you reduced your caffeine intake, headaches would be expected. Headaches are a symptom of caffeine withdrawal. (That's the reason there's caffeine in Excedrin; people who are suffering from a headache from caffeine withdrawal will feel nearly instant relief.)
posted by Class Goat at 2:06 PM on November 10, 2008

I'm reading the comments about B12 with interest, because I currently have all your symptoms (except for the anxiety). I was pretty freaked out too - I thought I might be getting ME or something awful, because it's really not like me to get sick and stay sick (hmmm, maybe some anxiety after all). However, I've been putting it down to flu, and, having finally struggled in to work today, many people have mentioned that there's a nasty 2 week flu going around.

Disclaimer: I am on the other side of the Atlantic, but nowadays that probably doesn't mean it couldn't be the same flu, I 'spose.
posted by tiny crocodile at 2:19 PM on November 10, 2008

I don't know about Atlanta but I do know that Austin constantly has allergens of some sort or another floating around, either things are blooming or there's mold or dust or god only knows what. What I DO know is that I can, at just about any time of year, sortof get sick in unusual ways. Autumn is often hellish for me, for whatever reason.

I keep some anti-histamines around, I buy generic Claritin by the bucket full when it goes on a good sale, and if/when things get left-handed on me I start shoving the stuff into my head and -- Viola! A lot of times that solves whatever problem I had going on.

Not saying that's what's ailing you, just saying.

I hope you get to feeling better soon.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:28 PM on November 10, 2008

re: volunteering - I didn't do nearly enough to warrant this much exhaustion; mostly I was making phone calls.

re: caffeine - I periodically mess with my caffeine intake for various reasons like sleep issues, migraines, etc. I've gotten pretty good at not altering the amount too drastically too quickly, and in this case I was going down from about 3 cups over the course of a day, to about 2. Headache should only have existed in the first few days, but it's ongoing.

re: allergies - a good thought, thank you! I too swear by the generic Claritin. I often get sinus pressure I don't necessarily recognize as such, since it just registers as general fog and head pain. Though it's not really meant for sinus issues, I find it helps, and gives me no side effects, so I've gone back on that.

re: the B12 stuff: interesting. When I go get checked out, I will be sure to bring this up.

I've not had the vitamins for two days now, and have not had any of the head effects. The rest of the crap, especially the inappropriate exhaustion, has not lessened in the least. So I can't get away from thinking something really was up with the vitamins, even if not having to do with any toxicity or expiration issue, but there's also something else going on. Lame.
posted by jessicapierce at 6:39 PM on November 11, 2008

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