Too Many Supplements, Too Many Pills?

By Perrin Braun Oct 17, 2011

 

In America, it sometimes seems that we live in a culture of excess. We buy big houses, eat big Macs, drive SUVs, shop at huge retail stores, work in large buildings…and perhaps take too many nutritional supplements. New data found from a Segterra pilot study revealed that many healthy Americans might actually be consuming too much of certain nutrients.  image

The data from this study is particularly surprising because the media tends to focus on people who are undernourished and malnourished—or the individuals who don’t get enough nutrients from their diet. But it appears that some people are taking more supplements than they need. This can be costly, but it can also be bad for your health.

The Segterra study analyzed blood samples from 50 healthy adult Americans, both male and female, ranging from 18 – 79 years old. The study discovered that many of the people who were surveyed have very high levels of certain nutrients in their blood. When questioned about their diet, they revealed that they were consuming nutritional supplements in an effort to optimize their fitness and health goals. For this otherwise healthy adult population, are these supplements necessary?

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Much of the food that we buy is already fortified with the essential vitamins and minerals that we need to stay healthy. For example, we can find orange juice fortified with calcium and breakfast cereals that contain the bulk of the recommended daily allowance for several nutrients in one serving. Essentially, if you eat a balanced diet, you can get all of the vitamins and minerals that you need to stay healthy from the food you eat. 

The data from the Segterra dataset reveals that many active Americans are taking too many iron and vitamin B12 supplements as a type of “insurance” to maintain their physical performance. The Institute of Medicine even introduced a report that lists the tolerable upper intake levels (UL)—the maximum amount of daily vitamins and minerals that are safe to take.

The body uses vitamin B12 to create new blood cells and to maintain its nervous system. You can find plenty of vitamin B12 in animal products such as meat, eggs, cheese, shellfish, and some fortified breakfast cereals, so if you’re eating these foods, you probably have enough. Low levels of vitamin B12 can result in anemia, a condition where the body lacks healthy red blood cells, but people who eat foods rich in vitamin B12 are generally not at risk for developing this condition. Twelve percent of the individuals who participated in the Segterra study were found to have too much vitamin B12 in their blood. Very high levels of vitamin B12 can result in the following conditions: 

abnormal urine color and reddening of the skin rashes, headache, nausea, and chest discomfort impaired immune response that results from decreased white blood cell production dysphagia, or difficulty in swallowing pruritus, sensation that causes the desire or reflex to scratch

Iron is essential for athletic performance, so many active Americans tend to be very conscious about making sure they have enough. Ferritin is a well know marker of iron in the blood. This essential nutrient works to carry oxygen throughout the body, which influences the muscles, immune system, and energy metabolism. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III, most men generally exceed the RDA for iron, whereas most women don’t get enough. Premenopausal women generally need more iron than men, but a diet rich in foods like leafy greens, breakfast cereals, dried fruit, red meat, turkey, sesame seeds, liver, and egg yolk can supply more than enough of the body’s daily requirements for iron.

However, some individuals are getting too much iron. High blood Ferritin (or taking too much iron) can result in:

increased inflammation high cholesterol and triglyceride levels irregular metabolism increased oxidative stress, which can damage proteins, cell membranes, and genes

If you’re concerned about getting too much or too little of a specific nutrient, you should first find out if you really need to be taking a supplement. The simplest way to learn more about your unique body chemistry is to test your blood. InsideTracker is an inexpensive and reliable way to do this. Not only only will InsideTracker help you optimize your blood levels on a number of key biomarkers, it might also save you a whole lot of money on multivitamins and supplements as well.

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