The Scary Risks of Taking too Many Vitamins and Supplements
I’m constantly harping on the fact that it’s ideal to get most of the nutrients you need from foods. It comes from love, and I “harp” lovingly, but I do reiterate this over and over again! Naturally occurring nutrients in foods are more compatible with your body and more readily absorbed than their supplement counterparts. If you eat a well-balanced diet of whole, healthy plant foods, chances are you’ll get the nutrients you need for good health.
If you are drinking the Glowing Green Smoothie, and some of my other recipes like the Power Protein Smoothie, you will be consuming a much larger amounts of high-nutrient plant foods, and therefore nutrients, than the average person that doesn’t believe that they can get the vitamins they need from their foods.
Feeling the need to take dozens of supplements means that you are putting the power to “heal” your body on something outside the body- on a potion, pill, powder or a wide range of various ones. There are plenty of “snake blood sellers” out there, as I call them, that create programs that make you feel that you need to buy lots of supplements…or else! Or else you are going to not be healthy. But the notion that you need to “take something” just gets bigger and bigger, and will never be satisfied. Even in the natural health world, it always amazes me how little people seem to believe in the power of food, and believe that you have to take so many tinctures and potions. The fact is that only your body can really heal itself, and by giving your body superior nutrition and constantly removing obstructions and toxins in the body, you allow your body to be in the ideal state where it can efficiently heal itself.
Of course, I do recommend a few, carefully selected supplements such as probiotics. A high quality, wholefood-based multivitamin that contains the range of B vitamins and D3 is good overall nutritional insurance. However, I truly believe that taking too many supplements is not only a hassle, but it can also endanger your health.
Overdose and Toxicity
When vitamins and minerals occur naturally in foods, they exist in amounts that your body can easily manage. Many vitamins are water soluble, and thus if you take excess amounts, your body will flush them out naturally when you urinate. Essential Vitamins A, D, E, and K, however, are fat soluble and stored in your body. Because your body does not naturally excrete them, they can build up to toxic levels.
Some trace minerals can also have toxic side effects. For example, selenium is an essential trace element that can be toxic in large amounts. In 2010, the amount of selenium in a liquid dietary supplement resulted in an outbreak of selenium toxicity, which led to a host of symptoms including hair loss, fatigue, and joint pain among others.
Interactions with Medications and Other Supplements
Because vitamins and supplements are available over the counter, they are very easy to obtain and take in every possible combination known to man. Many supplements – especially herbal supplements – have very powerful medicinal properties in the body. It’s possible to create hazardous interactions between herbs if you take more than one. Likewise, many herbs interact with certain medications. For example, the supplement CoQ10 (co-enzyme Q10) has many potential reactions with diabetes medications, ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, blood thinners, and others. The common sleep aid, melatonin, can interact with multiple medications including diabetes and blood thinning meds and birth control pills. When you visit your health care provider, it is essential you always include vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other supplements you take in your list of current medications.
Unless you are working closely with a physician or other health care provider, you are self-prescribing powerful substances when you decide to take supplements. Because many herbs and other substances have pharmacological properties, it is essential that you not only know the potential interactions, but also the common side effects and other contraindications. For example, pregnant women need to be very careful about any herbal supplements they take, because it could affect fetal development.
In the United States, supplements are not regulated. In fact, the FDA operates from the assumption that all supplements will not cause any harm until they are proven to do so. For example, in the 1980s and 90s, the herbal supplement ephedra was extremely popular for weight loss, energy, and performance. Then, in 2003 a RAND study raised significant concerns about ephedra’s negative health effects. The study found a potential link between ephedra and heart attack, stroke, psychiatric symptoms, seizures, and other health problems. Ultimately, as evidence mounted against the safety of ephedra, the FDA issued a ban on the product’s use in diet supplements, a ruling that was upheld by the federal appeals court in 2006.
Supplement manufacturers have no need to prove their supplement is effective. They also aren’t required to inform consumers about potential side effects and drug interactions or accurately label ingredients and amounts. This means supplements may have far more or less of an active ingredient than listed. Many over the counter supplements have been tested and found to contain all kinds of dangerous contaminants including heavy metals, chemicals, and even prescription drugs! According to Pieter Cohen, M.D. of Harvard Medical School, some herbal weight loss pills were tested and contained prescription medications such as amphetamines, antidepressants, and tranquilizers. These contaminants can cause a whole host of problems, ranging from mild symptoms to sever conditions such as kidney failure and heart attack.
Consumer Reports compiled a list of ingredients commonly found in dietary supplements that can cause severe health issues such as heart problems and kidney damage. Some of the top ingredients they found that were the most dangerous were:
- Aconite caused heart arrhythmia, respiratory paralysis, and even death.
- Bitter orange is linked with heart attack, stroke, and syncope among others.
- Chaparral is linked to kidney and liver issues.
- Colloidal silver can cause kidney damage, blue skin, and neurological problems.
- Coltsfoot is linked to cancer and liver damage.
- Comfrey is linked to cancer and liver damage.
- Country mallow has been linked to heart problems up to and including death.
- Germanium is linked to kidney damage.
- Greater celandine is linked to kidney damage.
- Lobelia is linked with fast heart beat and coma.
- Yohimbine is linked to high blood pressure and death
With so many potential health issues associated with dietary supplementation, I recommend erring on the side of caution. While I do recommend a few supplements, in general I think you should get most of the nutrients you need by eating a variety of plant foods. If you do take supplements:
- If you take herbal supplements, be informed. Do your own independent research to learn the risks and potential benefits, contraindications, and side effects. Beware of the tremendous amount of misinformation and hype on the Internet about herbal supplements and seek your information from respected sources.
- Only take one herbal supplement at a time.
- If you have a health condition or take medication, do not take supplements without first talking with your health practitioner.
- When you visit your health care provider, bring a list of all supplements you currently take.
- Seek recommendations of brands from experts, and purchase your supplements from a reliable source made by a company with an excellent reputation.
- If you notice any strange symptoms, stop taking the supplement right away and talk to your health care provider.