Apr
30
2014

Overuse Of Supplements Can Create Health Risks

The Dietary Supplement Health And Education Act of 1994 made it easier for people to acquire supplements and vitamins from health food stores. But since then there has been a proliferation of various products that are sold as supplements and not as drugs. It may give you the impression that all supplements are harmless, but this is not so. There are some supplements like vitamin A where you need to watch that you are not inadvertently overdosing, as toxicity is a problem; calcium supplements are also potentially toxic, if overdone. And amino acid supplements (protein supplements) can lead to an overdose of brain hormones. Here is a sample of some of the supplements that I would want you to watch.

1.Vitamin A toxicity:

Vitamin A is essential for normal night vision, for red blood cell production in the bone marrow and for the immune system. Here is a brief review about its metabolism. But while small amounts are beneficial for the body, high doses are toxic. In the 19th century the Arctic explorer Elisha Kane reported that consumption of polar bear liver caused severe headaches, drowsiness, irritability and vomiting within a few hours of ingesting it.

It is now known to be due to “pseudotumor cerebri”, a condition that mimics a brain tumor, but is caused by an acute overdose of vitamin A contained in liver (Ref. 1).

In the US where people eat enough meat, fish and dairy products, there is no overt vitamin A deficiency. Read this link to avoid overdosing with vitamin A in multiple supplements.

Overuse Of Supplements Can Create Health Risks

Overuse Of Supplements Can Create Health Risks

2. Vitamin C:

Vitamin C is an important antioxidant vitamin and is needed as a co-factor for many metabolic reactions. It is participating in the production of collagen and connective tissues, helps with fatty acid transport and is necessary for the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain (Ref.2). The lack of vitamin C is known as scurvy; symptoms include bleeding gums from fragile capillaries, delay in wound healing and impaired bone metabolism. Although in the earlier research it was hoped that vitamin C would prevent colds and cure cancer, more recent reevaluations found that it does not prevent you from getting colds, but it accelerates the recovery from colds by cutting down the recovery time by as much as 25 to 30% and it also does have some cancer protective effects (Ref.2). Higher doses seem to be more beneficial, but 1500 mg per day seems to now be the consensus of a reasonable upper dose limit per day.

What about kidney stones? Several studies in the past have warned about vitamin C being broken down in some people into calcium oxalate kidney stones. Here is a brief review of the literature with regard to kidney stone formation. A study regarding the DASH diet, which is used for people with high blood pressure, showed that the incidence of kidney stones is almost half for both men and women compared to controls on a normal North American diet.

There has been a concern among the medical community that vitamin C as a supplement would increase kidney stones (oxalate stones). However a 2014 study showed that when both vitamin C and vitamin E are taken as supplements, the kidney stone formation goes down.

Many inhabitants of industrialized countries including the population in the US and other countries are magnesium deficient and this can be a major factor for forming calcium oxalate stones. But it has been known for decades that those who develop kidney stones excrete more oxalates in their urine (so-called “oxalate excreters”). Here is a 1996 study that measured this in detail.

If you are taking in a lot of green smoothies from green leaf vegetables (spinach, kale, Swiss chard) that are high in water-soluble vitamins, you may not require any vitamin C supplements. In other words, think about what else you do and eat and add it up, so you do not exceed a total of 1500 mg to 2000 mg of vitamin C per day.

If you are taking in a lot of green smoothies from green leaf vegetables (spinach, kale, Swiss chard) that are high in water-soluble vitamins, you may not require any vitamin C supplements. In other words, think about what else you do and eat and add it up, so you do not exceed a total of 1500 mg of vitamin C per day.

3. Calcium supplements:

Calcium is a key mineral in the body, important not only for healthy bone structure, but also to balance the electrolytes within the blood, in the extra cellular fluid space and within our cells. If calcium is low, the brain is more prone to seizures and the heart can produce dangerously irregular heart beats. We definitely need a balance of calcium! Because calcium is so central to our wellbeing, several factors work together to keep our calcium levels stable: the kidneys, the thyroid, the parathyroid glands, the adrenal glands, the bone as a reservoir of calcium, the gastrointestinal tract for absorption and a good, balanced nutrition. The chapter on “Vitamins and Minerals” of Ref.3 points out that 4000 mg of calcium per day definitely causes toxicity (hypercalcemia and milk-alkali syndrome).

Absorption is dose dependent meaning that only 500mg of calcium carbonate is absorbed at a time. Vitamin D3 deficiency leads to reduced calcium absorption. But with high doses of vitamin D3, which is now often recommended, more calcium is absorbed, so it is important not to take too many calcium supplements. They can also interfere with iron and zinc absorption and when more than 2600 mg of calcium is taken magnesium absorption is inhibited as well. Calcium can interfere with thyroid hormone supplements (take 4 hours apart) and may reduce the effect of calcium channel blockers, drugs used for angina or high blood pressure.  There is a balance between calcium stored in bone (99% of total body calcium) and the circulating portion of 1% of calcium in the blood. The parathyroid hormone and calcitonin are also involved in this balance. Hypercalcemia is the condition when calcium is too high. Common causes are the improper use of diuretics (thiazide diuretics), overuse of calcium carbonate supplementation (often for osteoporosis) and overuse of vitamin D3, which increases the absorption of calcium (Ref.3). See your family doctor for blood tests and advice what to do in your case.

4. High protein diets and protein (amino acid) supplements:

Many protein supplements are available through health food stores and vitamin stores. The advertisers often state that our food would be substandard and these supplements would help “to regain strength”.  Athletes hope to get stronger muscles from amino acid supplements because they are the building block for protein that builds up muscles. Fact is that no supplements are needed when you eat balanced meals containing meat and fish and you exercise regularly. The protein in your food will be broken down into amino acids and your body metabolizes this into your own protein. Here is a website that reviews the subject of supplementation with amino acids.

It is clear from this that this is a rather complex problem. Vegetarians may require these supplements to replace protein for the missing meat intake. But the rest of us have to guard ourselves against overdosing with too much meat, amino acids supplements or protein supplements.

High protein diets (Atkins diet and others) have been glorified as being helpful for weight loss. But the long-term effect of such diets lead to chronic kidney damage in those with diabetes and high blood pressure as evidenced by protein leakage in the urine (called ”microalbuminuria”, Ref.4).

According to this reference the average protein requirement is 0.6 g of protein/kg body weight/day. This text comments that this would be compatible with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation for protein intake. For a person weighing 140 lbs. this translates into about 50 grams of protein per day. Here is a website that explains the upper limit of meat intake with the example of an 8-ounce portion of top sirloin steak.

Protein supplements have become very popular, but you need to be careful when you supplement with this that you do not get an overdose of amino acids. Amino acid profiling has been useful for physicians and naturopaths to examine deficiencies in children or adults checking for essential amino acids in the blood.  However, in the industrialized countries such as the US, Canada and others the larger concern is now the overuse of meat in our food (e.g. Atkins-like diets) and protein supplements. The same amino acid screening tests will find several of the ingredients (amino acids) in these protein supplements to be too high. In this case it is imperative to stop the protein supplements to prevent amino acid toxicity.

This study warns that not enough is known how performance-enhancing supplements affect the metabolism of the body. There are discussions that perhaps upper limits for amino acid supplements need to be established:

5. Creatine supplementation:

Other supplements of concern are creatine supplementation in the sports-minded and in athletes who want to build up muscle mass. Creatine is synthesized by the liver form amino acids derived from fish and meat that is broken down into the amino acids arginine, glycine and methionine. So, there is no shortage, but athletes and sports minded people want to push the envelope and take in additional creatine that helps their energy metabolism (ATP production) in the muscles to increase their performance (Ref. 5) Creatine is vital for the brain, the heart, the kidneys and the eyes (retina). It is a buffer for lactic acid during anaerobic exercise. Some of the side effects are muscle cramps, diarrhea, fluid retention and kidney failure when exposed to high heat and dehydration. There are no long-term studies of the use of creatine supplements, yet some athletes are taking them long-term.

Conclusion:

We are tempted by various merchants and infomercials to take in more and more vitamins and supplements including protein and amino acid supplements. But when you eat well-balanced meals, preferably organic food, you already have enough protein, nutrients, calcium, vitamin C and vitamin A contained in food. So you may be inadvertently putting a strain on your kidneys that have to eliminate whatever it is that is too much for your body to take. Your liver may also be quietly working overtime as well. Your brain gets overactive by the surplus of amino acids that are utilized by the brain to make brain hormones. Your system can only take so much; at one point a surplus of supplements will make you sick! So, be vigilant and think about what your regular food intake already provides. Do you really need that supplement or do you already get enough from your food intake? Are you falling for some marketing scheme? Remember, you are the steward of your own health!

References:

1.Shannon: Chapter 69: The Vitamins. Haddad and Winchester’s Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose, 4th ed.© 2007 Saunders

2. Mandell: “Water-Soluble Vitamins”. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett’s Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, 7th ed. © 2009 Churchill Livingstone

3. Rakel: Chapter “Disturbances in Calcium and Phosphate” and chapter entitled “Vitamins and Minerals”. Textbook of Family Medicine, 8th ed. © 2011 Saunders

4. “High Dietary Protein Intake” in “Taal: Brenner and Rector’s The Kidney”, 9th ed. © 2011 Saunders

5. DeLee: DeLee and Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine, 3rd ed. © 2009 Saunders

Last edited April 30, 2014

Incoming search terms:

Jun
01
2013

Toxins In The Bathroom

In the past I never looked at labels on shower gel, hair conditioner or liquid soap. But one day I read that the cosmetic industry uses parabens as a disinfectant in many body care products including cosmetics. That’s when I found out about my major supply of hair care products contained various parabens, like methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben or heptylparaben.

Hair care and body care products

Officially, toxicity tests have shown that these substances are safe on the short term. What this means is that in short term experiments (usually up to 90 days) rats did not die from exposure to them. But long-term studies to see whether they would die from cancer have never been done. However, long-term exposure can lead to skin rashes in sensitive individuals (contact dermatitis, rosacea). This is still fairly harmless. Much more concerning are the effects of long-term exposure, which is what happens when we apply these chemicals to our skin every day. It has been shown that breast cancer specimens (what the surgeon cuts out during surgery) contain parabens, which can be measured in the lab. Further experiments have shown that parabens have estrogen-like hormone activity in animals and humans. They belong into the group of “xenoestrogens”. What this means is that they act like weak estrogens, and this can be cancer causing. In women estrogens are in balance with progesterone, but when parabens or other xenoestrogens are introduced, the estrogens get the upper hand, which can cause breast cancer and uterine cancer. In men where traces of estrogen and progesterone are also present, balanced with the more dominant testosterone, this hormone balance gets disturbed by parabens, and prostate cancer can develop. Why don’t we hear about this more often? Because it is a slow process that may take 20 to 30 years. By that time nobody thinks that breast cancer or prostate cancer could be the result of long-term exposure to parabens. For years the cosmetic industry argued that parabens would be just applied to the skin, not taken internally and for this reason they should be safe. The problem in this sentence is the word “should”. Parabens are absorbed through the skin and enter the bloodstream directly exerting the xenoestrogenic effect. Some  parabens occur naturally in very small amounts such as in barley, strawberries, currants, vanilla, carrots, and onions, but they are absorbed by the gut and get  destroyed by the liver in the so-called “first pass effect”. I went to the health food store and studied labels. I was able to get clean products (shampoo, conditioner, body wash), which do not contain parabens.

Toxins In The Bathroom

Toxins In The Bathroom

Tooth paste

This is a topic, which may get your dentist annoyed. Here are the ingredients to watch for:

1. What most people expect to be in a toothpaste is fluoride. The dentist was told by the representative of the toothpaste company that fluoride would make the enamel of teeth more resistant against tooth decay. This is passed on to the consumer. What is not passed on to you is that fact of fluoride toxicity, which occurs when fluoride gets absorbed into the body. This is called “skeletal fluorosis”.  Stomach and bowel irritation including irritable bowel syndrome and joint pains are part of this syndrome. In growing children the enamel of teeth can get discolored, the bone of adults can get brittle causing wrist fractures. Fluoride displaces magnesium on a cellular level and this causes metabolic problems in the kidneys and brain as many enzymatic reaction need magnesium as a co-factor. The thyroid can also become hypothyroid, particularly, if iodine was low to start with (fluoride can replace iodine in the body). If you feel you need to brush your teeth once per day with a fluoridated toothpaste, use regular, non-fluoridated toothpaste in between. You can also protect your body by taking iodine capsules twice per day to saturate your system with healthy iodine, which makes you more resistant to bromide, chlorine and fluoride toxicity.

2. Another ingredient on the label is often Sodium lauryl sulfate: this chemical is used to improve the texture of the toothpaste and make it foam up when you brush your teeth. The side effects are irritation of the mucous membranes, may cause canker sores, redness and irritation of the skin around the mouth. It is interesting to note that it also causes fish to die when the wastewater enters the ocean or water streams.

3.  Triclosan: This substance has antibacterial and antifungal properties and as such lends itself to prolong the shelf life of bodycare products (see this review). It is frequently used in deodorants,toothpaste and mouth washes. It is being investigated for safety by the FDA because it is an endocrine disruptor in animals and in humans, can cause hay fever, antibiotic resistance and can combine with chlorine from chlorinated water to cause release of chloroform, which is a known cancer causing substance. Many manufacturers have voluntarily abandoned the use of it.

4. Saccharin and aspartame: These artificial sweeteners are often used in toothpaste to add sweetness. Although originally thought to cause bladder cancer, saccharine has been cleared of this around 2000 when it was shown that although causing bladder cancer in rats, it was safe in humans. Diabetics have used saccharine safely for over 50 years. Aspartame, however, is more problematical:  there was an intensive investigation by the FDA whether or not aspartame would cause cancer in humans. As this review shows there were methodological flaws in some of the cancer studies so that the FDA finally decided to keep the previous recommendations that is was safe to use in diet drinks etc. the same. Other researchers disagreed and came to the conclusion that there were interest groups that interfered with the science of investigating safety of aspartame. Aspartame belongs into the group of excitotoxins, substances that can excite the brain and can also cause an existing cancer to metastasize. At this point in time it is much safer to cut out all aspartame from your diet including your toothpaste.

5. FD&C blue dye No. 2. This blue food coloring agent has been around as food additive since 1906. It was FDA approved back then. However, because of renewed health concerns this food coloring was re-reviewed. According to this reference the time exposure in animal experiments was not long enough (page 13 to 19 of this link), but serious complications such as significant brain tumors in rats and borderline higher frequency of bladder tumors and breast cancer were noted. The FDA elected to keep it listed as a safe food coloring agent. Hyperactivity in children is another observation that is of concern to parents. It simply is not worth to use blue, number 2 in toothpaste. Read your labels and leave it out!

Hair dyes

With the baby boomers turning grey as they get older, there is an interest in hair coloring. But of course people of any age group may like to change hair color and experiment!  Study labels of different products. You will notice in quite a few of them the familiar parabens as a disinfectant. Other toxins are ammonia, benzene, PPD (p-Phenylenediamine), toluene, coal tar. You find details of these ingredients and their side effects in this link (note a lot have been shown to be cancer producing). The bottom line is: avoid cancer-producing chemicals like the ones just listed. Instead buy your permanent herbal hair color in the health food store or health food section.

Cosmetics

Women probably apply too many creams and lotions on their skin. Cleansers, moisturizers, foundation, powder, eye shadow, lip stick, eye shadow, eye liner, nail polish are all substances that will be in part absorbed by your system. The body has to be detoxified in the liver, and the kidneys remove the metabolic end products in the urine. As many of the chemical ingredients in these cosmetics are cancer-producing substances, it is no wonder that the liver, the kidneys and the bladder are the target organs. Read more about the dirty dozen, the chemicals in cosmetics, in this link. Phthalates in the form of diethyl phthalate and dibutyl phthalate are commonly found in cosmetics and personal care products. They help nail polish to last longer and are industrial solvents.

In 2010 this Mexican study showed malformations in rodents after exposure of the mother to phthalates. Asthmatic children were also found in another study to have absorbed higher levels of phthalates than children that had no asthma. As a result phthalates have been illegal in many European countries, but not yet in Canada and the US. What should you do about this? For wrinkles use a product that consists of hyaluronic acid. (I found “Pure Hyaluronic Acid Facial Serum” from Complementary Prescriptions (Carson City, NV) and Yu InfiniSerum, a cream manufactured by Nutrazyne Research LLC, Highland, UT). Between both of those non-toxic skin applications you likely will not need any other cosmetics on your skin. If you feel you do, insist on natural ingredients that do not irritate your skin. Do you really need a lipstick? If you do, do not take one that contains lead or other cancer producing metals as was discussed recently on the news.

Mouth wash

Many people feel they have “bad breath” and they need a mouthwash. This is good marketing for companies that produce mouthwash. However, the truth is you need to have your gums looked at, brush your teeth regularly and floss your teeth. If you are constipated, increase your fiber intake and consider colonics. If you still think you have bad breath, use a natural mint product (read the ingredients). Why do I not like mouthwashes? They kill your mouth bacteria that are naturally there; this can disbalance the rest of your gut bacteria as you swallow part of the mouth flora when you eat or drink fluids. If you still want to use a mouthwash, use one without alcohol and without any carcinogens or parabens. Also read this 2009 news item. It is as valid as it was then.

Underarm deodorant

Here is an article that points out the danger of antiperspirants and breast cancer. The lesson to be learnt from this is that the propellants of sprays can be deadly when overused. So, use deodorants that are sticks to put or roll on. Next there is the aluminum content, which needs to be “0”. Aluminum is one of the substances responsible for Alzheimer’s disease when exposure to it occurs over longer periods of time. Parabens are often smuggled in as antifungals/antibacterials. They are hormone disruptors and xenoestrogens causing breast and prostate cancer. So, no propellants, not parabens, no aluminum! Triclosan is another substance that is added to the ingredients. As discussed before it is already is being recognized as hazardous! To choose the right deodorant it is important to read labels carefully, so you can make informed choices. Look for “aluminum free deodorant”. Next make sure that none of the bad chemicals described above are in the ingredient list. Read this info to educate yourself. Your best bet to find the right product is to go to the health food store or health food section of a store, as they usually carry a selection of natural, non-toxic products.

Conclusion

We owe it to our bodies to protect them from the chemicals that manufacturers produce with no concern about their customers’ health. You may ask yourself why cosmetics, toothpaste or other personal care products are even manufactured with cancer producing substances in them! It is up to the consumer to make the right choices and we do have many health-oriented choices available to us now. My hope is that through education we will influence the market to become more health-oriented.

Last edited June 1, 2013