Overload: Why Taking Too Many Supplements May Be Bad For Your Health

Friday May 24, 2013 | BY |
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Too Many Vitamins

Where do we draw the line with vitamin and mineral supplements?

Have you ever wondered if you’re taking the right supplements for you? Is your integrative or holistic doctor really targeting nutrients in an orthomolecular manner so they interact in positive ways with your cells? Are the products you’re taking from online sources really helping you? Or are you simply taking too many?

What if you have really big goals, like living forever?

In his book, Transcend, Ray Kurzweil and co-author Terry Grossman, M.D., offer detailed instructions on “living long enough to live forever.” This is like saying the key to longevity is not getting old, which is true, but cryptic, while being essentially useless.

Yet Kurzweil thinks he’s found the answer: Take 250 supplements a day. Kurzweil achieved celebrity status for his bold theories about the “Singularity,” a point in time when man and machine will converge, creating super-intelligent, immortal beings. Ironically, such techno-beings probably won’t need supplements, or likely even food. That might be a good thing, because we’ll have ruined our planet by then.

Forget back to the future. What about now? Is 250 too much, or too little?

Too Much, Too Little

Nature works towards balance. The ancient Chinese Taoists and Tibetan Buddhists, shamans and medicine men, and wise people worldwide tell us to live a life of moderation. Very likely even your grandmother told you to take it easy, and keep things in balance.

Even a few scientists and medical doctors are discovering that biology is ecological, and that interconnectivity and balance are intimately linked to how the universe functions. We hear it more and more. Improving wellness stays disease. Prevention is the best medicine. Moderation is the key.

Caution to the wind, you say! But hold on: mega-nutrition is not always good.

Take a lesson from nature. Nitrogen makes up about 78% of the earth’s atmosphere. Scientists have found that it is also common in the universe, making supernovas and living in the atmosphere of other planets. It’s also the key nutrient that fills our stomachs. Without nitrogen, photosynthesis cannot happen, and plants can’t grow. No plants, no food.

When modern chemistry discovered how to capture and synthesize this gas into nitrogen-rich fertilizer, the green agriculture revolution was born. Within decades, countries like China pulled away from famine and starvation, and ran headlong into overpopulation.

Spread on fields by hand or machine, excess nitrogen cascades into the environment, altering ecosystems along the way. Once clear rivers full of fish become choked with green phytoplankton. Red Tide, an over bloom of algae and the bane of the Gulf of Mexico, is blamed on nitrogen run-off from fertilizing home lawns and gulf courses. Fish and other sea life can’t breath, and die.

I’m an avid gardener. I have three varieties of mango trees, several lychees, macadamia nuts, avocados, star fruit, pomegranate, papaya, and others. Plants need the right location for their needs with just the right amount of sun or shade. They need regular watering. From time to time, they need pruning. They also require nutrients, especially natural organic fertilizer like compost. And, sometimes they need minerals. They also need lots of nitrogen. But if you overdo nitrogen, even by a little—some plants, like people, are very sensitive—they turn brown. Fertilizer burn, or leaf scorch, is caused by over-fertilization from excess nitrogen salts. Burn from too much chemical fertilizer comes on within days. Concentrated organic fertilizer can also cause leaf burn or slow growth, but the effect takes a lot longer and appears slowly.

What does this have to do with living forever and the supplements you take to stay well?

I often equate practicing medicine to gardening. A good doctor is one whose plants are healthy and alive, and whose patients thrive.

Our bodies are a sensitive ecosystem just like the ocean and agricultural lands. Wild nature provides the right balance for life. We can deviate a little, or even a lot for a short period of time. But, too much or too little, of any thing, including nutrients, tips the balance. Nature gets sick. We get diseases. We can’t live a long time.

Nutrient Toxicity

Vitamin supplements are divided into two major groups: water-soluble and fat-soluble nutrients. Fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K are stored within the body, and taking too much can lead to build up.

Too much vitamin A, for example, leads to liver damage and causes changes in vision and hair and skin. Toxic levels of vitamin D may occur from high dosages leading to soft-tissue calcification. Vitamin E intakes greater than 800 IU daily may lead adverse effects such as headache, fatigue, nausea and vomiting.

Water-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin C, B3 and B6 have reported several side effects with over consumption, but little toxicity. Vitamin C intake may lead to diarrhea. Niacin (vitamin B3) is associated with vasodilation and gastric upset at intakes greater than 3,000 mg. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) intakes of more than 200 mg a day may lead to sensory neuropathy.

Too much selenium, zinc, and chromium—essential trace minerals but needed in small amounts—are be very toxic. The ever-popular colloidal silver has been linked to kidney damage and brain problems. And, too much silver, when taken too long, turns the body blue.

When Is Enough Sufficient?

The earth needs phytoplankton. It serves as nutrients for small fish and helps make oxygen, but too much damages ecosystems. Plants need nitrogen, but too much causes leaf burn. We need nutrients, but too many may have negative effects that we are not yet aware of. When in doubt, keep the dosage low until you have more information.

Changing your lifestyle from a lifetime of commercial, packaged, and refined foods to live organic, fresh foods can be hard on the body. Shedding dependence on chemical drugs to using natural medicines takes some doing. It’s as complex as a farmer converting to organic agriculture from chemical fertilizer. It takes a lot of work and equal amounts of patience.

A good doctor should be more like a farmer then an engineer. The patient should take gardening lessons from their doctor on how to tend the soil of the body’s ecosystem. You require good natural food and will need supplements, but just the right amount, not too much or too little. It has to be done just right.

Here’s a starting point for low-dose daily supplementation.

General Wellness Supplements

  • Multivitamin and mineral with cofactor nutrients and polyphenols
  • Extra vitamin C with bioflavonoids
  • Extra calcium, especially for women and vegans
  • Extra vitamin E as all natural, complex tocopherols
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, preferably from fish oil but microalgae sources are acceptable to vegans
  • Probiotic

I agree that supplementation with massive amounts of nutrients is not the same as overuse of nitrogen fertilizer. But, we don’t have enough information, study, research, or trial and error experience in mega-dosing. Still, people do it. I’m not sure this is wise.

Even Kurzweil, when asked what really are the most important nutrients, narrows it down to three: Coenzyme Q10, Phosphatidylcholine, and Vitamin D3.

In my book, Prolonging Health, I discuss about every known supplement, but narrow it down to the seven most important for health and longevity. Note that the dosages are low to moderate. Never too high, but just right.

The Seven Longevity Nutraceuticals

  • Acetyl-L-carnitine
  • Carnosine
  • Creatine
  • L-alpha glycerylophosphorylcholine (GPC)
  • L-carnitine
  • Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH)
  • S-adenosyl-methionine (SAMe)

Remember, when in doubt, keep it simple.

Dr. J. E. Williams

J. E. WILLIAMS, OMD, FAAIM

Dr. J. E. Williams is a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, longevity, and natural health. Dr. Williams is the author of six books and more than two hundred articles. During his thirty years of practice, Dr. Williams has conducted over 100,000 patient visits. Formerly from San Diego, he now practices in Sarasota, Florida and teaches at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Division of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, NOVA Southeastern University, and Emperor’s College in Los Angeles.

He is also an ethnographer and naturalist. Since 1967, he has lived and worked with indigenous tribes, and spends as much time in the high Andean wilderness and deep Amazonian rainforest as possible. In 2010, he founded AyniGLOBAL, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting indigenous cultures, environments, and intellec¬tual rights. His current work is with the Q’ero people of the Peruvian Andes, where he teaches Earth-based wisdom and heart-centered spirituality.

For more information: www.drjewilliams.com

Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/drjewilliams

2 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. Patrick says:

    Interesting article Dr. Williams but i have a question . Why should you need to take any supplements if you have a healthy balanced organic diet?

  2. Pamela N says:

    I really apprecitated this artical. I am really glad to see alot of what I beleived to be true years ago , to be now published in print. Years ago you were thought to be a quack but now people are coming around to the natural is best, and more is not always good.

    In responce to Patrick’ comment…you can do your own reasearch at http://www.pubmed.gov type in oxidative stress. we make 100000000000000000000000 free radicals daily..caused by even the good foods that we eat, the air we breath, the car we drive, etc. and even if it sais organic..well you have to go back to a whole alot more, as farms in Hawii that used to be all organic have been tainted.

    So not to go into huge detail Dr. Williams is correct ..that we do need help. a good site for referance is http://www.GetYoungerBlood.com see the peer reviews

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