Sunday, October 10, 2010

Please don't eat the polar bear

"Millions of Americans take vitamins safely every day, including me. Vitamins and mineral supplements taken in recommended doses are safe. It's the designer supplements that are worrisome."
- Dick Durbin, US Senator.  

Today I learned an odd bit of trivia - twice - from two different sources. The first source is the Teaching Company lecture series, Nutrition Made Clear. The other source is, Providing Crucial Fats and Oils in Your Diet. Apparently Polar Bear liver is dangerous. "A quarter-pound of polar bear liver contains about 2,250,000 units of vitamin A. That is roughly 450 times the recommended daily dose for an adult weighing 175 pounds.)" - Eating more than a quarter ounce of polar bear liver per month can cause vitamin A poisoning.

Vitamin A, along with D, E and K, are fat soluble meaning they are absorbed into the body's fat and stay there until the body needs them. A massive overdose of these vitamins can be fatal. It's also dangerous to greatly exceed the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) every day (without a Dr's OK). The excess is stored in the body and may reach toxic levels over time.

So how about the water soluble vitamins like the B's and C? Everyone knows these are safe in large doses. Wrong. The lecture series Nutrition Made Clear tells the story of a gymnast who was given a massive dose of B6 for an energy boost. Unknown to the coach, a B6 overdose causes numbness in hands and/or feet (and can be fatal). The gymnast fell from the parallel bars and suffered a spinal injury that ended her career.

Vitamin C is popular in mega-doses to fight colds but there is little medical evidence that this is effective. At best C will end a cold sooner but not prevent it. Too much vitamin C can cause diarrhea, kidney stones, hot flashes, headache, insomnia and tiredness.

Bottom Line

I often hear people say, it's natural so it must be healthy. They forget belladonna is 100% natural but very deadly. So are some wild mushrooms and puffer fish. I would not want to eat Poison Ivy or inhale it.

Also you'll hear, "if a little is good, more is better" when it comes to minerals and vitamins. Here's a short list of vitamin overdose symptoms.

  • Vitamin A overdose:
    Blurred vision, dizziness, ringing in the ears, headache, insomnia, irritability, apathy, stupor, skin rash, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, joint pain, menstrual irregularities, fatigue, liver damage, abnormal bone growth, damage to the nervous system.

  • D vitamin overdose:
    Calcium deposits, deafness, nausea, fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, kidney stones, weak bones, hypertension, high cholesterol

  • E vitamin overdose:
    Pulmonary embolism, hypertension, muscular weakness, severe fatigue, breast tenderness, slow wound healing

  • Niacin vitamin overdose:
    Acute flushing, peptic ulcers, liver dysfunction, gout, faintness, dizziness, tingling of fingertips, arrhythmia's, hyperglycemia

  • B6 vitamin overdose:
    Problems with sense of position and vibration, reduced tendon reflexes, numbness in hands and feet, problems walking, problems with memory, depression, headache and tiredness

  • C vitamin overdose:
    Taking mega doses for too long may lead to scurvy when mega doses are discontinued, kidney stones, hot flashes, headache, insomnia and tiredness.

  • Calcium overdose:
    Depresses nerve function, can cause drowsiness, calcium deposits, and kidney stones

  • Iron overdose:
    Damages liver, heart, and pancreas

  • Zinc overdose:
    Fixed facial expression, difficulty walking, slurred speech, hand tremor, involuntary laughter

  • Cobalt overdose:
    Goiter, heart damage

  • Selenium overdose:
    Nausea, vomiting, fatigue, irritability, loss of fingernails and toenail.
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