Welcome to Ask Doctor Zac, a weekly column from news.com.au. This week, Dr Zac Turner helps with a question about the risks of taking too many vitamins.
QUESTION: Hi Dr Zac, When my roommate is hungover he will drink a glass of water with five Berocca tablets. If that isn’t enough, he also swallows a handful of multivitamins! He says it soothes his head, and his soul. I think it’s actually doing more harm than good, and the first clue is that our toilet water stays bright orange for the next two days.
Am I correct, is too much of a good thing a bad thing? – Stacee, 25, Sydney
ANSWER: You should be contacting the Environmental Protection Authority – your toilet bowl is essentially the Elephant’s Foot in Chernobyl! If you’ve had a Berocca before, you’ll know the sight and smell of your first pee after drinking it. It smells how it tasted, and looks the same as well. That’s because your body didn’t touch it.
When you consume things orally it’s your saliva that starts the digestion process. It then passes through your stomach, where acid breaks things down further before heading into your small intestine. The bacteria and enzymes in the small intestine then work together to try and absorb as many nutrients as possible.
A key to healthy living is adequate nutrition of the 13 essential vitamins composing A, C, D, E, K along with the B vitamins. Research shows that the risks of many of the chronic health conditions that occur in older people can be largely reduced with good nutrition throughout life.
One of the things people forget though, is that eating lots of salad and having a well rounded diet provides plenty of nutrients. Sometimes having a booster if you’re feeling rundown, tired or just have more stress can be very useful.
Once absorbed, your body isn’t so great at containing all the water soluble vitamins (C and B mostly). In fact, it actually ignores most of them as it passes through your body and only picks a few it wants or needs, which is why it’s important to get the water soluble vitamins in daily as they only stay useful and in the circulation for a couple of hours.
To answer your question plain and simply: yes.
You can overdose on vitamins and minerals. In fact, those five Beroccas and that handful of multivitamins may as well be another round of tequila shots with the amount of strain it puts on your body to process them. Just like any medication that needs to be dosed correctly. Having more of something doesn’t necessarily make it better. In fact it could actually become toxic.
Multiple vitamin overdose occurs when someone takes more than the normal or recommended amount of multivitamin supplements. Any ingredient in multivitamins can be toxic in large doses, but the main ones to worry about are iron, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin A.
If you had five Beroccas, your body would turn itself into a pee machine. It puts all its eggs in the ‘get it the hell out of my body’ basket. That’s why your urine is often radioactive looking. If you are feeling rundown and are wanting a boost, a far better idea would be to put one Berocca in a litre of water.
Another issue with having lots of vitamins all at once on an empty stomach is that the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K need to be broken down and absorbed with fat. A great way to do this is to have some nuts or have them post meal as otherwise they’ll be filtered out, unabsorbed, not even making it out of your stomach before hitting the toilet bowl.
A common sign of taking too many vitamins and minerals is a change in the colour of your urine. Colours to be worried about are bright orange, reddish or pink. It’s okay if this happens occasionally, but any sudden and consistent changes need to be addressed by seeing the doctor.
One size doesn’t fit all
Multivitamins seem like the perfect answer to wellness, but they may as well be a 3-in-1 shampoo, conditioner and body wash. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to your health!
The takeaway is to remember that obtaining essential nutrients through a balanced diet is generally the best approach. Supplements should be used to fill specific nutritional gaps rather than as a replacement for a healthy diet.
Here’s a guide to follow-up
1. Consult a healthcare professional: A doctor or registered dietitian can evaluate your supplement regimen and assess whether you are taking excessive amounts of vitamins. They can review your overall health, dietary habits, and any symptoms you may be experiencing to provide personalised advice.
2. Nutrient testing: There are specialised tests available that can measure the levels of certain vitamins in your blood. These tests can help determine if you have deficiencies or excesses of specific vitamins. Your healthcare professional can recommend and interpret these tests for you.
3. Pay attention to symptoms: Excessive intake of certain vitamins can lead to specific symptoms. For example, excessive vitamin C intake may cause digestive issues such as diarrhoea, while excess vitamin B6 can cause nerve damage with tingling fingers. If you experience any unusual symptoms or side effects, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional to determine whether they are related to your vitamin intake.
4. Monitor your vitamin intake: Keep track of the vitamins and dosages you are taking each day.
Got a question: [email protected]
Dr Zac Turner has a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Sydney. He is both a medical practitioner and a co-owner of telehealth service, Concierge Doctors. He was also a registered nurse and is also a qualified and experienced biomedical scientist along with being a PhD Candidate in Biomedical Engineering.
Originally published as Hangover cure that’s worse than the booze
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