Poisonous Vitamins and Minerals

PoisonPillI hear some version of this statement all the time:  “I take vitamins and minerals because I don’t always eat right”.

Unfortunately, good health is rarely found in the bottom of a pill bottle.  You must be extremely careful if you take any vitamins and minerals, and remember that healthy sounding items may not always be good for you.

In the middle of our stressed and over-scheduled lives, a handful of supplements sound like the perfect answer to our bad eating habits.  We are encouraged to pop vitamins like a kind of nutritional insurance policy “covering” all the missing nutrients we do not get from our food.

We feel good about ourselves because we are making an effort to be healthier, and we like the assurances that supplements come from “natural’ sources.  We embrace and defend the idea that only good things can come from taking supplements on a regular basis.  However, this is proving not to be the case.

A number of studies have shown that antioxidant supplementation with vitamins A, C & E, Beta Carotene and Selenium do not improve our health and are even associated with an increased risk of cancer, heart failure, and death.

Sometimes supplements wipe out the benefits of your exercise routine.    One example is Vitamin C, which has been shown to limit the strength your muscles can obtain after exercise.

What goes wrong?  Excessive doses of antioxidants interrupt normal functioning of the mitochondria within our cells.  Too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.

Likewise, calcium supplements are also coming under increased scrutiny after several large studies demonstrated that calcium supplementation does nothing to improve or prevent the development of osteoporosis.  In addition, calcium supplementation increases your risk of kidney stones as well as death from cardiac arrest.

The manner in which you get your vitamins makes all the difference, and there is no substitution for the real thing.  Calcium that is naturally found in food, for instance, is not associated with those dangerous risks.

Vitamin poisoning is a very real problem.  My father-in-law took 1/4 of the “recommended” daily dose of Vitamin E and it put him into heart failure. He thought Vitamin E might be good for his eyes, and if it was sold at the grocery store it could not be dangerous.  That particular vitamin, however, was toxic to him and the resulting damage to his heart is permanent.

What should you do?  Unless you have a specific vitamin or mineral deficiency and you are prescribed a specific supplement by your physician, get your vitamins and minerals from your food.  Many studies show improved health and longevity when people consume large amounts of fruit and vegetables.  Make good nutrition from food a priority, and realize that every product you ingest has risks.

At the end of your day when you deciding the dreaded “what’s for dinner” question, remind yourself that a handful of supplements will never equal a handful of healthy food.

Picture of Patrick Nemechek, D.O.

Patrick Nemechek, D.O.

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