By Dr. Thomas Levy
There are many things that are unequivocally good for you that become bad for you when you take too much of them. Relative to most prescription drugs however, vitamins, minerals, and nutrient supplements are vastly safer regardless of the dose. Nevertheless, even with this wide safety margin in mind, very few supplements can be taken with complete disregard as to dose. Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and all oral forms of magnesium are noteworthy exceptions. Vitamin D is a supplement that you need to adjust with blood testing. Too little is bad for you, and too much is also bad, but the benefits of the right dosage are enormous. Most mineral supplements can be overdone as well.
The real danger in supplementation comes with not realizing which nutrients can readily transition from a beneficial intake to a toxic intake within a very narrow margin of safety. The most noteworthy of these “toxic nutrients” are calcium, iron, and copper. While there is no question that these three nutrients are absolutely essential to life and good health, there is also no question that these nutrients can very easily become incredibly toxic when they exceed certain levels in the body, with the toxicity further increasing as the levels elevate.
Calcium is currently one of the most supplemented substances on the planet. The primary reason for this is due to the scare that older individuals have of not being able to effectively cope with osteoporosis and its grave complications. This scare however, is not based on science. Calcium supplementation promotes all chronic degenerative disease, as its excess presence inside the cells is the primary reason for the increased oxidative stress that is seen with all such diseases. The administration of a long-acting prescription calcium channel blocker or a nutrient mineral calcium channel blocker such as magnesium decreases all-cause mortality as intracellular calcium levels are lowered. Except under the rarest of circumstances, calcium should never be supplemented, and dairy intake, especially milk, should be kept to a strict minimum (Levy, 2013).
Iron is a nutrient that can also be very easily pushed to toxic levels in the body. As a transition metal, it has two ionic forms, ferrous (2+) and ferric (3+). Because of this iron serves very effectively to relay electrons from one source to another. Inside the cells, as iron levels increase, oxidative stress increases due to an upregulation of the Fenton reaction, which donates electrons to peroxide, producing the highly reactive hydroxyl radical.
Toxic levels of iron can be easily avoided by monitoring the complete blood count and the ferritin level. If your hemoglobin levels are normal, you do not need one extra molecule of iron in your body. When you have enough iron to synthesize and maintain a normal blood count, you have vastly more than enough iron to address and support all of the other roles that iron plays in the body. Iron storage levels are best monitored by the ferritin blood test, and if your ferritin levels are consistently above 100, specific efforts should be made to bring that level down, preferably below 50, via blood donation, or infrared sauna sweating, or supplementation with inositol hexaphosphate (IP6). As long as your blood count stays normal, you really cannot push your ferritin level too low.
Copper is similar to iron, in being a transition metal that participates in the relay of electrons and resulting in increased oxidative stress inside the cells via upregulation of the Fenton reaction. While someone can legitimately be iron-deficient when anemia is present, it is virtually impossible for someone to be deficient in copper, and a clear clinical syndrome of copper deficiency remains to be defined. The only thing accomplished by copper supplementation is to promote a chronic increase in oxidative stress in the body that only does harm and offers no benefit. Multiple animal and human studies have shown that copper levels inside cancer cells and in the circulating blood of individuals with cancer are elevated and that excess copper and iron administration promote cancer development. The highest levels of copper correlate with the most aggressive and metastatic tumors, and the removal of copper with copper chelators significantly suppresses tumor growth (Fuchs et al., 1986; Fuchs and de Lustig, 1989; Liu, 1991; Gupta et al., 1993; Yoshida et al., 1993; Gupta et al., 2005; Chen and Dou, 2008; Mizukami et al., 2010; Rigiracciolo et al., 2015). An elevated serum copper level and an elevated ferritin have also been established as risk factors for having a heart attack (Salonen et al., 1991; Salonen et al., 1992).
Because calcium, iron, and copper each individually increase oxidative stress throughout the body, they worsen the severity of all diseases that an individual might have. Consistent with this, increased calcium in the body as measured by coronary artery calcium scores increases all-cause mortality (Nakanishi et al., 2015; Hartaigh et al., 2016). Increased iron in the body as measured by ferritin levels increases all-cause mortality (Ellervik C. et al., 2014). And copper levels in the body, as measured by looking at the copper/zinc ratio in the blood, increases all-cause mortality (Malavolta et al., 2010). Also, based on the references cited, supplemental calcium, iron, and copper can all legitimately be considered carcinogens.
Many people take a multivitamin or multimineral supplement and believe they feel better on it, and that they may even be able to normalize previously abnormal blood tests by taking it. However, when you take a supplement with many different components and seem to benefit from it, this does not mean that everything in that supplement is good for you. If 13 out of 15 ingredients are good for you and 2 of them are toxic, you will still probably do better on that supplement. However, it is clearly not proof that everything in that supplement is good for you.
In a nutshell, never supplement calcium. Never supplement copper. And never supplement iron, unless you have a documented iron deficiency, microcytic, hypochromic anemia. Your body will appreciate it.
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