Children Seriously Harmed by Vitamin A Poisoning

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
December 22, 2018

In 1979, a chiropractor in Peoria, Illinois, prescribed massive doses of vitamin A for a nine-year-old girl and her four-year-old brother. Both children suffered from ichthyosis, a congenital disorder in which the skin is scaly and resembles that of a fish. The girl ingested 750,000 international units (IU) daily for several weeks and 370,000 IU daily for 2 months. The boy ingested 675,000 IU daily for 2 months and then half that amount. At that time the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin A was 1,665 IU for 4-year-olds and 2,331 IU for 9-year-olds.

Excess vitamin A is stored by the liver, where it can build up to toxic levels. Within a few months, the girl developed swelling of the brain, manifested by blurred vision and headaches. She also had musculoskeletal pain and tenderness, hair loss for 2 months, and damage to the growth centers of several of her bones. One of her legs became several inches shorter than the other, which caused her to develop scoliosis. The boy developed bone pain and enlargement of his liver and spleen. After the vitamin A was stopped, his pain went away, but he was left with permanent damage to his liver and spleen. The relevant medical bills totaled about $24,000.

Beginning in 1984, the children’s parents sued the chiropractor (Vernon R. Mannon, D.C.) and the companies that had manufactured and distributed the vitamin A product (Biotics Research Corporation and NutriDyn, Inc.). The suits charged that:

  • Mannon had negligently diagnosed and treated the children.
  • Mann on should have known that the dosages he prescribed were dangerous.
  • Biotics Research and NutriDyn knew or should have known that their vitamin A product was potentially dangerous.

Between 1986 and 1989, the suits were settled out of court for a total of $895,000, with $260,000 coming from NutriDyn, $450,000 coming from Biotics Research, and nearly $200,000 coming from the chiropractor’s insurance company. The family’s attorney was Thomas H. Tate, who specialized in birth defect and product liability cases. In 1979, as part of its Over the Counter Review process, the FDA issued a proposed rule that listed icthyosis among the conditions for which treatment with vitamin A had not been proven safe or effective. [Federal Register, March 16, 1979, p 16164]

This article was posted on December 22, 2018.