Why Taking Too Many Supplements Can Endanger Your Health
As healthcare costs continue to rise, more people are taking a vested interest in their personal health care, including managing nutritional deficiencies. Nutritional experts agree that there are benefits to supplementing a normal diet with vitamins, that help bridge the gap between what the body needs, and what is provided through normal dietary consumption.
The problem is that doctors are not consulted or informed about the number of supplements that individuals choose to take, on a daily basis. In high doses, almost every vitamin and mineral can become toxic, and the average person may forget to include vitamin enriched foods, as part of the daily maximum limit. We’ll explain why taking too many supplements can endanger your health, and why having a conversation with your family physician is essential to maintaining health and wellness, and avoiding interactions.
Fortified Foods and Vitamins Are Everywhere: That’s a Problem
In the last century, vitamins and access to supplements has changed substantially. They were originally prescribed only by doctors, to therapeutically treat diseases of nutritional deficiency. In the early 1900’s, diseases like goiter, rickets and pellagra were rampant in the United States. In 1921 alone, 75% of infants living in New York City had contracted rickets, which was known to be related to lack of proper nutrition. By the 1940’s, Vitamin D was added to fortify milk, to help reduce the condition in American households.
The Pellagra disease was related to insufficient levels of niacin, and from 1906-1940, more than 3 million Americans were diagnosed with the fatal condition. Researchers struggled to prove that the disease was not infectious, but rather was caused by food restrictions and poor-quality diets among families living below the poverty level. By the 1940’s, all flour products were enriched with niacin and iron, and the disease stopped occurring. The most recent example of food fortification for health management in America, was in 1998, when a program was initiated to add folic acid to breakfast cereals, to help prevent neural tube defects.
Today, there are vitamins and supplements available anywhere consumer products are sold. From pharmacies to supplement retail centers, online and through infomercials; you can even find specialty supplements at your corner gas station, in single doses. While dietary supplements are essential to wellness and balanced nutrition, few people consult with their primary care provider or medical practitioner, for advice on which supplements to take.
There is an alarming culture of supplementation in America that is concerning to the medical community. While ample studies and literature is available on the health benefits of each supplement, how do consumers know which vitamins and minerals they require? There is a prevailing sense of “more is more” when it comes to supplements, without medical guidance on interactions between vitamins and prescription medications, lifestyle considerations, and other health facts that might make taking certain types of supplements (or combinations of minerals and vitamins) dangerous, and harmful to your health.
Adding Up Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA)
It is easy to lose track of the number of vitamins and minerals you are consuming on a daily basis. Many people take a multivitamin they trust every morning, to address gaps in dietary nutrition. But additional supplements may be taken throughout the day, or other foods that have been fortified, which can actually put your RDA (recommended daily allowance) of certain vitamins and minerals over the limit that is deemed to be safe.
Consider food products that you consume, that may be adding additional vitamins to your diet. From fortified milk, bread and cereals, to energy drinks or commercial smoothies. Energy bars are a popular choice for a meal ‘on the go’, but they are also fortified with vitamins and minerals that can put your body over the limit, in terms of daily supplements.
When you think of the supplemental nutrients you take every day, are you counting everything that you are consuming? How often do you pause and read labels on everyday products like orange or apple juice, and even some types of flavored water, to evaluate additional vitamins that you are part of your diet on a daily basis?
Vitamins That Can Harm When Consumed in Excessive Quantities
Not only can excessive consumption of certain vitamins interact negatively with prescription medications, they can lead to series, and sometimes life-threatening circumstances. Health benefits for vitamins and minerals are limited to the recommended daily allowance, but many studies and physicians agree that contemporary consumers may be ‘overdoing it’ when it comes to intake.
This vitamin is long recognized as beneficial, and even taken therapeutically when an individual is fighting off a cold or flu. However, the upper tolerable limit (or the maximum safe amount) of vitamin C is 2,000 mg a day. Excessive amounts of Vitamin C increase the risk of developing painful kidney stones, and gastrointestinal problems, including nausea and diarrhea.
As we age, we need more Vitamin D, so the recommended daily allowance increases for adults over the age of fifty-years. Vitamin D intake is essential for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, for healthy strong bones and teeth, and it is also known to improve immunity to conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and Diabetes.Vitamin D is fortified in a number of daily dietary products, which increases the risk of layering multiple sources, and overdoing the RDA. A standard multivitamin daily is generally enough to supplement Vitamin D, but a primary care provider should be consulted to review, before increasing the ‘sunshine vitamin’ for a prolonged period of use.
In the past twenty years, the medical community speculated that Vitamin B-6 was an effective treatment for post-menopausal women, or individuals with depression. In recent years, the value of larger doses of Vitamin B-6 have been for the most part, debunked. The daily limit for Vitamin B-6 is 100 mg per day. Exceeding that amount with an independent supplement, can result in nerve damage, and numbness in the hands and feet.
Remember to share the supplements you take with your doctor, at your annual medical examination. One of the easiest ways to do this, is to bring your supplements with you, to your appointment. With more communities served by electronic health information exchange, your doctor will be able to record the supplements you take on your health record, and help you monitor and provide advice to help you manage your nutrient intake.