• U.S.

A Problem with Milk

2 minute read

NO ONE KNEW WHY EIGHT PATIENTS ENTERED NEW England hospitals with vitamin D overdoses, but researchers wanted to find out. Too little of this crucial vitamin can lead to bone weakness and rickets, the deforming of bones in growing children. That’s why D, found naturally in only a few foods (including the seriously disgusting cod liver oil), has been routinely added to milk since the 1930s. But too much of the vitamin is no bonus; the symptoms range from fatigue to urinary-tract stones to kidney malfunction — and, in infants, the condition known as “failure to thrive,” which can lead to death.

A little medical detective work revealed that none of the patients were taking vitamin supplements, the usual source of such overdoses. But all eight routinely drank milk from a single dairy. And when doctors tested samples of the milk, they were shocked to find that it had up to 500 times the vitamin D level marked on the label and recommended by the FDA. Worse yet, a wider study covering 13 brands of milk in five Eastern states turned up levels well below or appreciably above the suggested dosage. Infant formulas tended to be the highest, while some skim milk had no D at all. The doctors, whose report appeared in last week’s New England Journal of Medicine, don’t recommend eliminating vitamin D from milk; that was tried in England, and rickets cases shot up. But they do say milk monitoring, which is the states’ responsibility, has got to be done much more often, and more carefully.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com