Recently a practice member emailed me asking my advise regarding the use of a specific health supplement for a friend. Something caught my attention in her closing statement, and I quote. "What would you think about his taking it - since it's a standard supplement and maybe 'couldn't hurt' ?" The person she was referencing has had some health challenges and she knew to be cautious with the use of just any health supplement. Her intuitive caution was accurate and we were able to adjust the use of this standard supplement in a way to best suit this individuals needs. Safety first of course.
It got me thinking, how may people assume a vitamin, mineral, or herbal remedy is safe just because it is classified within the "health food and nutrition" industry? With little consideration of the consequence, the first sign of the common cold and suddenly the body is barraged with high dosages of vitamin C, zinc, echinacea, goldenseal, etc. With the thought looping in the background, "can't hurt...they are all good things for me to take." You would have to be extremely lucky for that to be true.
It seems innately difficult for most of us to question the safety of the more common supplements. Especially the ones promoted by the "health food and nutrition" industry as the miracle cure for almost everything. I notice there are more and more coming on the market. If what these promoters say is true, why are so many people sick? I'm sure you have heard, we as a nation have a healthcare crisis.
I wanted to make the point that any healthy food or supplement, taken in excess, can be unhealthy. So I thought, what would be the most safe food to eat, that if eaten in excess, would not cause a problem? Then I would explore the dark side of this utopian food and expose the dangers of it's over consumption. This would show that if a relatively safe food could be dangerous, then certainly you should be wary of assuming a health supplement is safe.
I remembered a story told to me many years ago by my ex father in law. I will refer to him as Mack. He served in the Navy and for many months, while on duty aboard a warship, he experienced constant unrelenting sea sickness. Nothing the medics did helped him. He spent most of his time laying in his bunk feeling nauseated.
Mack went on to say the only food he could eat that would not increase his nausea was canned pears. His story made sense to me. I can't think of a more unobtrusive food than a pear. Not too sweet, or salty, or bitter, or citrusy ....it seems just about right in every way. Could this be the innocent food item I would use as an example to support my position that anything consumed in excess can be harmful?
I searched on the side effects from eating too many pears and ah ha! Wouldn't you know it, apparently pears have a high folic acid content, and eating too many of them can cause a folic acid overload. Some of the common symptoms being confusion, loss of appetite, irritability, sleep disturbance, itching, and nausea. But wait. Too many pears --> high folic acid--> nausea.... But pears diminished his nausea. This didn't fit my narrative! Or did it?
Now I'm thinking Mack may have had an undiagnosed folic acid deficiency and that is why eating lots of pears made him feel better. I searched on folic acid deficiency symptoms and the results showed it causes loss of appetite, irritability, itching, blah, blah, blah, and wait for it...nausea. So what can we conclude? Nothing. Too much or too little folic acid has a very similar presentation. Furthermore, we don't even know if his positive pear experience had anything to do with folic acid anyway. But I did come away with a valuable message.
One man's poison, another man's medicine. Whether a nutritional supplement is healthy, or unhealthy is not the issue. Every vitamin, mineral, and herb supplement effects our biochemistry and pushes our metabolism in a particular direction. The real question is, what direction do you need your metabolism to go? That question can't be answered by pondering symptoms and speculating outcomes. Fortunately we don't have to, there is a better way.
You may have noticed, that I very rarely recommend a heath supplement without first knowing something about your specific imbalances. Because I'm not like most other nutritional health care providers. I consider the underlying physiology, correlated with clinical exam finding to determine your biological individuality. Add in the data points
from various labs and of course your unique symptomatic presentation.
Stop and think about the consequences of taking a supplement, just because it is supposed to be "good for you." What does that really mean anyway? ... "Good for you." Carefully consider the ramifications of the recommendations received from Dr. Google, a Whole Foods clerk, most "nutritionists" and far too many doctors. Raise your bar on taking nutrition. Require that precision and knowledge be applied to your quest for nutritional excellence. Your health is worth it.
PS. Obviously consuming too much of anything is harmful. Have you heard of the term water intoxication? A hard fact to swallow, but it's amazing how many people die from drinking too much water.