SUPPLEMENTS How many is too many?

At this point in time we are popping more vitamins, herbs and other supplements than ever before. The supplement industry is the new Big-Farma. Australians alone are now spending over 8 million dollars a year on supplements that are questionably necessary.

It’s true, if you take a vitamin supplement as well as supplemented food such as orange juice, or fortified milk which comes with calcium and vitamin D. Energy bars, meal-replacement drinks, protein shakes, cereal bars, cereal itself – which claim lots of vitamins and minerals, up to 100% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA), you could end up getting up to 500% of the RDA, maybe more, in one day – up to five times what your body needs. But are we toting up toxic levels of vitamins? And throwing our money away?


The Fat Soluble Vitamins A,D, E & K

Fat soluble vitamins are stored in the body for longer than water soluble ones are, which generally poses a greater risk for toxicity that water soluble vitamins. The upper tolerable limit for adults is 10,000 IU for vitamin A. You get it from animal foods, fish, and dairy products. Also, beta-carotene (from orange and yellow veggies) gets converted to vitamin A in the body.

If you’re taking a multivitamin that contains 5,000 IU, plus getting A-fortified foods in your diet, plus eating foods that contain vitamin A, you’re OK, but it’s the super-A supplements we worry about. It’s easy to overdo it with pills which is of particular concern for pregnant women.

Vitamin D is tricky because we need some, and as we get older we need more. Too much can actually cause calcium to leach out of your bones, causing weak bones as well as high levels of calcium in the blood which will cause another set of serious problems.

Vitamin D is found in some calcium supplements, and multi vitamins. If you do drink dairy, as well as take calcium with D, AND a multi you could be getting close to the limit.

There is focus on vitamin E to prevent Alzheimer’s, heart disease, macular degeneration, cancer etc. The upper tolerable level is 1,000 milligrams (1,500 IU); the RDA is 30 IU, and even higher doses seem to be well tolerated. In an Alzheimer’s study, people took 2,000 IU for four years and did’t have any adverse effects. In another study, people took 800 IU for six years, with no adverse effects.

The Water Soluble Vitamin C & B’s

Most people think it’s fine to take as much Vit C as they want, I know people who take 10,000 mg a day. However, the upper tolerable limit is 2,000 mg a day. The risk for kidney stones can increase with very high doses and other people may get diarrhea.

The B’s are generally well tolerated, however very high doses of B3 & B6 can have serious side effects.B supplements may be beneficial for pregnant women, the over 50, those that suffer from anxiety or depression, or people with certain medical conditions that prevent B absorption.


The Minerals

Like calcium, overloading on potassium supplements is potentially problematic for your ticker. This mineral has a function in regulating your heartbeat, and taking too much of it can cause heart problems. iron and zinc can both easily accumulate in your body and cause various issues, Digestive issues are typically the first sign that something is off, but people can also experience nausea, vomiting, seizures, or a rapid heartbeat.


The Herbs

Herbs can be very dangerous, particularly for your liver. Herbal and dietary supplements are now are responsible for about 20 percent of liver injury.

An “all-natural” herbal product might sound like it’s good for your health, but some common ones, like green tea extract and comfrey tea, can cause injury to your liver – the organ that breaks down medications.

Because of the potential risks, it’s important to take precautions if you decide to use a herbal product. Keep these tips in mind:

  1. Beware of the big liver offenders. Green tea extract, anabolic steroids, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, and flavocoxid (a herb sold to treat arthritis) are among the top substances that can cause liver injury.

If you love green tea, rest assured: Drinking up to 10 cups a day is safe. It’s the high doses of green tea extract usually found in weight-loss supplements that cause damage.

Certain herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine have also been found to pose some risks. Researchers have identified 28 traditional Chinese medicine herbs and herbal mixtures that have been reported to cause liver toxicity.

Meanwhile, comfrey – which is sold as a tea, powder, and capsule – contains several pyrrolizidine alkaloids that may cause liver injury. Chaparral, kava, and skullcap can also damage your liver.

  1. Know what’s in it. Some herbal products, such as milk thistle, are known to be safe. But others contain additional ingredients: Green tea extract, for example, is added to many herbal products. And in some cases, supplements don’t list the ingredients at all but make claims that they will flush your liver
  2. Check the LiverTox website. The LiverTox website contains valuable information on hundreds of drugs that have been found to damage the liver, including herbal products.
  3. Don’t always trust the label. To make matters worse, labels of herbal medications can’t always be trusted. Black cohosh, which is often taken for menopause symptoms, is considered safe. But products labelled as black cohosh have been linked to more than 50 cases of liver injury. In several cases, scientists found herbs from the Chinese actaea species in the supplement rather than black cohosh. Heavy metals, pesticides, and bacteria have also been found in supplements.
  4. Tell your doctor what herbal products you’re using. Giving your doctor a full list of what you’re taking, including herbal teas or supplements, is extremely important.
  5. Look for drug contraindications. Another reason to report any supplements you’re taking to your doctor: They could be working against your prescription medications. St. John’s wort, for example, should be avoided by anyone taking the contraceptive pills or hepatitis C medications.
  6. Limit the number of herbal products you take. The   ingredients could overlap, and you could end up with a higher dose of something that’s potentially toxic. In general, the fewer drugs you take – including those derived from herbs – the better.

Despite our best efforts many people still aren’t getting the right vitamins, either through lack of diet variation or destruction of nutrients through cooking etc.

If you’re taking medicine that interferes with nutrient absorption, if you’re an older person whose calorie intake is low, if you’re an athlete, or if you’re pregnant my advice would be to take a multivitamin as insurance. Take a calcium supplement, if you don’t drink much milk.

Rather than taking a supplement you’re not sure about, first learn all you can about it, talk with your doctor, and improve your health by considering herbal products in a safe way. A nutritionist can evaluate your diet for deficiencies. Also, some online programs provide the same service. If you are seeing a naturopath or herbalist make sure that they are qualified and experienced.

And remember, NATURAL is not necessarily SAFE. The OLEANDER flower is a natural beauty – but it will KILL you.


Kim Patra is a qualified Midwife & Nurse Practioner who has been living and working in Bali for over 30 years. She now runs her own Private Practice & Mothers & Babies center at her Community Health Care office in Sanur.

Kim is happy to discuss any health concerns that you have and may be contacted via email at, or office phone 085105-775666 or

Copyright © 2019 Kim Patra

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