Most of us, and certainly all of you, want the best for our health. I mean, who wouldn’t want to feel energised, free of aches and pains, with a kickass immune system?

Naturally, our attention is drawn to stories in our newsfeeds about the new superfood or supplement that is the very elixir of life we’ve all been waiting for. And alongside this is some nifty marketing and an offer you’d be mad to refuse! Before you know it, you’ve got a cupboard full of pills, potions and lotions; you don’t feel any better, and you’re hundreds of quid poorer!

There is also a serious side to this. Supplementation is an exact science, and it’s surprisingly possible to overdose. More isn’t always better, and in the majority of cases, too much of most nutrients can potentially be really harmful. If you’re taking a multi, and then you add in – say – some Echinacea to ward off the winter bugs, and maybe a bit of vitamin D because you read about how it can beat depression…maybe some iodine because you think your thyroid might be a bit sluggish…before you know it, you’re overdosing left right and centre, activating the inflammatory cascade, and throwing your body’s essential homeostasis completely out of whack. You may even be endangering your vital organs.

Too much of a good thing!

I recently had a patient who, in the quest for more selenium (for a self diagnosed heavy metal poisoning), was eating half a bag of brazil nuts each day, as well as taking a sublingual supplement – on top of a good multi-vitamin. Her symptoms included nausea and diarrhoea, brittle nails, fatigue and hair loss. Having extensively Googled, she then took some iron, alongside biotin for the hair and nails. Her symptoms did not improve. She had a perfect ‘clean eating’ diet, but was so unwell! Luckily she was referred to me before any serious damage was done, and she improved quickly after her supplements were properly calibrated.

You can have too much of a good thing. Vitamin D for instance, although manufactured in the 10’s of 1000 IUs on a sunny day, when generated in the skin by UVB, is in a water-soluble sulphate form, and is transported through the blood to where it’s needed. Orally taking water soluble D3 doesn’t get absorbed in the gut so you have to take a fat-soluble form. Too much and you risk hypercalcaemia, which results in bone loss. On top of that, some people are genetically better than others at absorbing Vitamin D. Unless you’ve done a gene test, or a vit D status test, you’re in the dark (no pun intended!).

All about balance

All minerals have friends and enemies – elements that compete for cellular binding sites, or help one another’s absorption. Working out a supplement regime is rather like the riddle of the fox, the chicken and the grain – what to take when, and how, to maintain homeostasis and not set up other deficiencies or overdose, avoiding interactions with the diet and any medication – it’s not as simple as one might imagine. On top of that some unscrupulous companies sell minerals and vitamins as compounds that can’t even be absorbed or utilised!

Most vitamins work synergistically with one another, as well as with phytonutrients. Too much of one can mask deficiency symptoms of another. Anti-oxidants may become pro-oxidant under certain physiological conditions, and do you know whether or not that’s beneficial? The research is ongoing…

Call in the professionals

It’s fantastic that we have access to so much information regarding our health, and that new discoveries are constantly being reported. And you don’t need to see a specialist to stay healthy – just eat plenty of veg and decent protein, get some exercise you enjoy every day, and don’t sweat the small stuff. The addition of a good quality broad spectrum multi-nutrient is a great safety net. But if you have a chronic condition, or a deficiency, please don’t try and fathom it all out for yourself! It takes years of dedication, studying and exams to get a nutrition degree! It’s safer and actually a lot cheaper in the long run, to leave it to a properly qualified nutritionist.

To find your nearest practitioner, check out the NNA or BANT websites, and choose someone with at least a BSc in nutrition. Phone for a chat before you book so you have an idea if you’ll click, and don’t feel that you have to book just because you called!

Wishing you the best of health!