Are you trying to detox your body and balance your hormones? Have you fallen down the proverbial rabbit hole of supplement stacks and found that the empty space in your medicine cabinet is decreasing? The sheer volume of people on social media sharing their elaborate concoctions of pill capsules and powders is putting a lot of pressure on casual viewers to take a wide range of vitamins if they want to achieve optimal health.
Pills and potions can help you feel more comfortable in your body and correct any imbalances you may be experiencing related to hormonal birth control, poor diet, or infertility. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to achieve better physical health, but treating micronutrient deficiencies can often help people feel restored and full of life.
However, too much of a good thing can also be a bad thing. Americans love over-the-counter supplements. More than half of us take dietary or herbal supplements on a daily basis, lining the pockets of vitamin and dietary supplement manufacturers with a global market valuation of $151.9 billion in 2021 alone. Over-relying on vitamins and supplements not only can give you a false sense of confidence in your personal health by masking symptoms or creating a placebo effect, but they can totally backfire and worsen your health if you try everything will be better.
Possible side effects are…
Some vitamin overdose side effects may only be mildly uncomfortable, while others can cause serious health complications. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Have you been taking collagen and biotin hoping your hair will grow longer and stronger? Well, if you take too much vitamin A at the same time, you counteract any progress towards achieving luscious curls.
Since vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin (rather than a water-soluble vitamin that can be excreted through urination or sweat), any excess amounts you ingest will be stored in your body fat. It’s worth noting that vitamins D, E, and K are also fat-soluble, and too much of them can be toxic.
Although many women experience gastrointestinal upset as a result of their menstrual cycles, a quick stomach upset is actually one of the most common signs that you’ve taken too many vitamins. Between stomach gurgling, cramps, nausea and more serious disorders, taking too many vitamins either on an empty stomach or in general can lead to major stomach upset.
Nausea is one of the most common signs that you’ve taken too many vitamins.
Gastroenterologists also warn that overdosing on vitamins and supplements can worsen irritable bowel syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), ulcers, gastritis, and other conditions that irritate your stomach lining. The most common culprits are vitamin C, iron, and calcium.
Numbness, also known as neuropathy, and tingling are common symptoms of vitamin overdose, especially vitamin B6. Although vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin (so it can be excreted through urine or sweat), it’s fairly easy to accidentally overeat when eating commercially prepared foods.
Natural sources of vitamin B6 are found in offal and are incredible for you, but in America most people overdose on vitamin B6 from meat and fortified grains and starches.
Consuming too much vitamin E puts you at risk of vitamin E toxicity, which can thin your blood. So if you have a minor cut or internal bleeding, things can quickly become serious.
Although vitamin E is vital for vision, reproductive health, and providing antioxidants to protect your body from free radicals, taking more than 15 milligrams per day is not recommended. The worst culprits of excess vitamin E are seed oils like canola oil, margarine, meat, leafy greens, and fortified cereals.
High risk of disease
According to the US Preventative Services Task Force, both cardiovascular disease and cancer risks increase when you abuse vitamin E and beta-carotene supplementation. Supplementing with too much vitamin K? They increase your risk of blood clots, which can lead to stroke and/or heart attack. Finally, an overdose of vitamin C can lead to complications for diabetics by falsely elevating blood sugar levels.
Don’t overlook the ingredient label
Okay, okay, I’m not trying to totally freak you out. Consuming vitamins and supplements in proper doses will not cause your hair to fall out or your blood to become thin. However, modest dosages of vitamins can still do harm. If you don’t check the labels on your supplement stack carefully, you may be getting a side of toxins with your micronutrients.
Many vitamins, whether marketed for children or not, contain artificial colors. The FDA claims that synthetic colorings not only “add color to colorless and ‘fun’ foods,” but also “compensate for color loss due to light, air, extremes of temperature, humidity, and storage conditions.” Is it worth popping pretty pills when we know artificial food coloring has been linked to behavior problems? Can’t we just be cool with ugly supplements since these colors are only added to hide quality issues with the active ingredients?
We’re cool about taking ugly vitamins and skipping the potential for biological damage from dyes.
Perhaps you’ve cooked with coconut oil, ghee, grass-fed butter, or lard instead of seed oils. Have you ever checked your vitamins to make sure they don’t contain cheap fillers like hydrogenated soybean oil? Many commercial vitamins contain this bulking agent, also known as the bad fats that worsen cholesterol levels and lead to coronary artery disease, America’s leading killer.
Whether you’re trying to conceive or trying to protect your heart and brain health, increasing fatty acids through fish oil supplements may have crossed your mind. However, some fish oils and omega-3 fatty acids actually contain toxic heavy metals. Prescription varieties tend to be cleaner, while over-the-counter products can contain higher levels of PCBs, mercury, and lead. Instead, you should look for oils that come from wild fish.
Another common additive in vitamins and supplements is magnesium silicate to prevent caking. Often found in the form of talc, this filler is similar to asbestos. Japanese rice varieties use talc to whiten the grain, and researchers have found links between this additive and the rise in stomach cancer in Japan. In addition to magnesium silicate, many vitamin manufacturers also add titanium dioxide, a coloring agent that can cause lung and kidney inflammation and damage. Again, do we need our vitamins to be beautiful, to consume them? I will sacrifice the aesthetic quality of my supplements if it means passing on the potential for biological damage.
Fortification and supplementation are a dangerous duo
As I’ve written before, excessive vitamin intake from fortified foods can actually make our waistlines bigger. Although most of us don’t consume vitamins throughout the day and risk our physical health, it’s worth questioning the fortified breakfast cereals, energy bars, or fortified pastas, breads, and other grains that many Americans consume on a regular basis. If we’re already overdoing it through diet alone, taking supplements can only exacerbate micronutrient overcompensation.
Over-enrichment is a bigger problem than the number of people who accidentally overdose on vitamins.
The director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, Dr. David Katz, believes that over-enrichment is a bigger problem than the number of people accidentally taking toxic doses of vitamins and supplements. In his research, he’s observed that food manufacturers aren’t necessarily focused on removing “bad ingredients” from foods like they used to be (like fat, salt, or sugar), and now they’re jumping in to adding every nutrient that can was fashionable back then. Sometimes that’s extra probiotics, omega-3 fats, or vitamin D. And often it’s unnecessary.
Where do we see this most often? Many milk alternatives and yogurts are fortified with calcium, but when we exceed the recommended 2,000-2,5000 mg of calcium per day we increase our risk of hardened arteries and even heart disease. Many fortified grains (pasta, muesli, bread, white flour) are rich in folic acid. Folic acid can be an essential ingredient in preventing birth defects and is often touted as an essential nutritional supplement for pregnant women. However, if you exceed the recommended amount of 1,000 micrograms of folic acid per day through fortified diet and supplementation, you can inadvertently mask B12 deficiency and cause yourself unintended, permanent nerve damage.
The good news is that you can get many of your vitamins and minerals without supplementation by eating a micronutrient-dense diet made from cleaner-sourced products. I understand that eating perfectly clean isn’t that easy. Trust me, I consume my fair share of fortified products and have tried many supplements that I probably didn’t need to take.
The best practice you can follow on a daily basis (aside from simply not taking more vitamin products than the packaging recommends) is to prioritize food quality and whole foods and, if you choose to take supplements, Doing your due diligence by sneakily reading labels for ingredients and choosing natural, food-based options. While you probably won’t overdose on vitamins, it definitely pays to understand what you’re taking as part of your daily routine.
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