When Good Pills Do Bad Things

This is why I tell my patients to get their vitamins and minerals from food. Think of your salad as a multivitamin and vitamin b complex. Think of yoghurt as a calcium supplement and probiotic supplement.

Here’s why: For some vitamins it is a known fact that they can be toxic in excess. An example of this is iron. Too much iron is lethal and in the hospital, we have a drug called deferoxamine that we give IV to treat iron toxicity. Too much iron is serious. And just a “heads-up”, one of the deadliest situations in a home today is a young child getting into his pregnant mothers iron supplements and eating the pills like candy. It was one of the scariest scenarios I was told when I did my training at the poison control centre here in New Mexico.

But other vitamins and supplements are not so serious. An example is a folic acid. Folic acid is needed for DNA to copy itself and make new cells. If there is not enough folic acid you can either get cancer in normal cells that can not dive properly or a birth defect in a fetus that is rapidly dividing and runs out of folic acid.

But the downside is that too much folic acid can be like gasoline on the fire for a cancer cell.

It’s a fine line. The folic acids levels have to be just right and the perfect level is easily obtained through food. No one has ever gotten cancer from eating too much fruit and vegetables. If anything it’s the opposite.

Now, I must also tell you there are some vitamins that are thought to be nothing but goodness or “innocuous”. Some people think in respect to vitamins, “the more the merrier” and they just gorge on vitamins.  Well, slowly we are discovering BY ACCIDENT that these vitamins might actually do harm. These accidental findings need to be confirmed by more controlled studies. They are NOT at the point where we should be taking them off the market. At this point, it’s just a reason why I tell my patients to take their vitamins from food.

Example: Vitamin C at 500mg a day for 18 months caused thickening of the carotid artery, the passageway of blood going to the brain. I was unable to find an online link to this document: Dwyer JH, Merz NB, Shirocre AM, et al. Progression of early atherosclerosis and intake of vitamin C and vitamin E from supplements and food. The Los Angeles Atherosclerosis Study. 41st Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention – Abstract P77. Circulation 2001;103:1365d.)

When I heard this my mind went into a tailspin. How could this be? How could vitamin C be bad for us? Well, it’s not vitamin C that is bad, it’s a concentrated, synthetic, unnatural amount smashed into a pill form that leads to very high acidity in the stomach, probably blood, and urine. Could it possibly be that the acidity in the blood is causing the thickening much like a callus? I don’t know. All I can do is theorize based on my expertise, read medical studies and looking for patterns that occur naturally.

But don’t let me discourage anyone from eating an orange, because in the natural fruit and vegetable form that, vitamin C works its magic. It has no harmful effects, only goodness.

Example number two: A vitamin B complex supplement was accidentally found to have worsened kidney functions in diabetics who were being treated for diabetic nephropathy. That means diabetics have a tendency to get kidney damage and they also have high levels of homocysteine which is a marker of bad health and possibly destructive to tissues.  A vitamin b complex was given to lower the destructive chemical which hopefully translated to the prevention and possibly reversal of the kidney damage. But when analyzing the data it was discovered that their kidneys, which filter the blood and make urine actually got a little bit worse. And once you damage your kidneys, it’s like a spinal cord injury. It’s a miracle if it heals.


However, I have to caution people not to jump to conclusions. It does NOT mean that healthy people are getting kidney damage from high dose vitamin B’s. It is possible, but not certain.

It doesn’t even mean it happens in every diabetic. It only means we need more studies to see if there was another variable causing this. So I don’t want to go around scaring people……Boooo! Okay, maybe a do just a little bit. But that’s why I tell people to get their vitamins from food.

There are more well-known examples of when good pills do bad things, especially with fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. I could write a book on the subject. (Well, I kind of am.) But instead, I’ll post a link to the recommendations of vitamins with respect to upper limits. http://www.consumerlab.com/RDAs/

Be well J

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