In 2015, The New England Journal of Medicine found that an estimated 23,000 US ER visits were tied to dietary supplements. In the breakdown for individual micronutrients that led to hospital visits, “Multivitamin” was at the top, accounting for 16.8% of all ER visits.
What this tells us is that there is an unfortunate lack of understanding around nutrient dosages. The general population may be unwittingly harming themselves by thinking, “the more vitamins the better”, without considering whether their lifestyle or genetic factors may cause negative reactions to what is commonly thought of as a “healthy dose”.
The fact is, we simply have no idea what the proper nutrient dosages are for us without proper testing. And us is very different from everybody. Overgeneralizing, as you can see from the New England Journal study, can land you in the hospital.
So should we take more or less of a certain vitamin or mineral? Should we simply not take some nutrients at all? As long as you don’t factor in your lifestyle, genetics and blood levels, you will never know.
At Rootine, we are strong believers in transparency: along with your nutrient microbeads, you also get a complete blueprint of all your vitamin needs based on your DNA test and blood work. You’ll know exactly what nutrient you need and at what dosages, and the genetic and lifestyle reasons behind this, in addition to getting all the supplements at the right dosages in your daily nutrient sachets.
We stress the importance of learning about how your genetic and lifestyle factors affect your nutrient requirements because the consequences can range from benign to severe. We don’t believe anyone should play guessing games with their health.
In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the harmful effects of under- and overdosing popular nutrients. It’s useful to understand that vitamins and minerals are vital for us to sustain healthy lives, keep diseases to a minimum, and feel great. Carelessly messing with doses is far from a harmless practice - especially in the long-run.
Who Needs to Take Nutrients?
BetterHealth Channel notes that people who may need supplements include “pregnant and breastfeeding women, people who consume alcohol in amounts over the recommended level, drug users and the elderly”. Though this is correct, they’re not accounting for lifestyle and genetic factors that greatly expand this list.
Location, diet, age, sex, exercise and mental health are all part of “lifestyle”; we’ve also identified 52 key genes that need to be observed in order to determine your precise nutrient needs. For example, if you live in an area with very little sun, you might need additional Vitamin D3 in your daily nutrient uptake. This requirement might change based on both dietary and genetic factors. Another example is if your APOA1 gene is affected, Omega 3 supplements may actually do you more harm than good.
You don’t need to be eating an unhealthy diet to qualify for additional nutrients! In fact, you could have a perfectly healthy lifestyle, with a certain lifestyle and genetic factors requiring you to take more or less of certain vitamins and minerals.
A well-referenced Healthline piece notes:
“toxicity isn't common and occurs almost exclusively in people who take long-term, high-dose supplements without monitoring blood levels”
Again, the caveat here is that this isn’t taking into account lifestyle and genetics. The message is still worth heeding: short-term nutrient overdoses aren’t all harmful, but long-term, the negative effects accrue.
The studies we see in media are also generalized over thousands or even tens of thousands of individuals. Which percentage do you fit into? The only way to find out for sure is a lifestyle assessment, a DNA test and proper blood work.
Nevertheless, let’s take a look at how some of the world’s most popular nutrients can have serious side effects when the proper dosage isn’t accounted for.
Likely the most well-known vitamin of the bunch, Vitamin C’s necessity as a supplement has split factions of researchers for decades. Before its discovery, James Lind found that citrus cured scurvy, which was making British soldiers drop like fleas in the 1740s. From the 1970s onwards, two-time Nobel prize winner Linus Pauling popularized the notion of megadoses of Vitamin C.
This worked great for Pauling, who lived to 93. Will it work for you? Vitamin C overdosing has been linked to kidney stones, and Marion Nestle, MPH, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University said:
“it doesn’t make sense to me to take huge doses of vitamins and minerals unless there’s a diagnosed problem, because there is so little evidence that they do good and sometimes a possibility that they might do harm”.
An essential nutrient for optimal eye health, there isn’t much debate over the dangers of overdosing on Vitamin A. Too much can cause liver damage, something Antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson and his team learned the hard way when they had to start eating their Husky dogs’ livers to survive an early-20th-century expedition. The fact that the livers were oversaturated with Vitamin A might have been the cause of death for Mawson’s remaining colleague.
The FDA hasn’t found a prevalence of Vitamin A deficiency in the US.
Necessary for cell protection and fighting free radicals (which damage tissue and cells, accelerate aging, elevate the risk of cancer and more), this is one of the best examples of a vitamin working differently for different people. One study found that:
“Vitamin E significantly increases the risk of prostate cancer among healthy men”
While another found women who are breastfeeding require more. Folic Acid (or 5-MTHF) is recommended for women who are pregnant or are planning to have a baby.
This vitamin is involved in energy and protein metabolism, normal nerve function and blood cell production, a normal immune system, and a host of other things. It’s absolutely essential, but whether you need more or less depends on your diet (a healthy diet would have enough B6) and your genetics. Too much B6 can lead to nerve damage.
An excellent example of nutrient interference (something most people are not aware of), taking too much Zinc leads to suppressed immune function since it:
“interferes with Copper absorption, leading to Copper deficiency, anemia, changes in red and white blood cells and lowered immunity”
Helps reduce the risk of some cancers and supports a strong immune system. However, Selenium poisoning is a very real thing. See our article on how your genetics affect your required Selenium dosage.
The Two Faces of Free Radicals
Vitamins A, C, E, and Selenium, among others, are antioxidants - meaning they help curb free radicals, which are harmful. However, the body still needs exposure to some free radicals in order to build a natural defence. Taking more than the recommended FDA dosage of vitamins that are also antioxidants could lead to your body having a lowered natural defence against free radical levels and leaving you more susceptible to the harm they can cause.
We can’t iterate this enough: proper nutrient dosages can be found via lifestyle, genetic and blood level assessments.