How common is it to supplement with a nutrient on a daily basis?
It’s extremely frequent.
Across health groups and modalities, each approach often has “favorite” nutrients, which are sometimes taken too frequently, too consistently — and for too long.
It’s a problem on its own, but it’s compounded by the tendency to demonize the very nutrients that might balance out this preferential supplementation. This is often done in hopes of “nudging” hormonal balance in a preferred direction.
Over time this supplementation approach leads to potentially-severe imbalances between various nutrients in the body.
Supplemented nutrients stand the risk of rising too high, while the neglected ones fall too low.
The problem, here, is that all nutrients have myriad interactions with other nutrients — throughout the body.
In a manner of speaking, all nutrients oppose each other, either competing for absorption or “using up” each other. There are some exceptions (mostly in times of relative deficiency), but even with the exceptions, the general rule still applies: increasing levels of a nutrient ultimately works to deplete other nutrients.
The question, then, is: How long does it take to cause an imbalance between nutrients?
The answer: Not that long — especially when chronic illness is in play.
In chronic illness, there’s a shortage of energy supplied to the body. Related are poor gut health and, with it, poor nutrient absorption. This leads to widespread nutrient deficiency — across the board.
An imbalance between nutrients is easy to create via uneven supplementation when the body is somewhat deficient in all nutrients. It often doesn’t take long for any particular nutrient to cause problems. It may only take a few months or, sometimes, (much) less.
Additionally, widespread nutrient deficiency can be made worse by exogenously pushing the metabolism faster than a compromised gut can absorb nutrients. Elevated toxicity due to mold, chemical exposure, and/or endotoxin creates inflammation that blunts nutrient absorption into both the bloodstream and individual cells.
Most individual nutrient supplements provide 100-300% of the recommended daily value.
Some are much higher than that.
These products should almost never be taken daily.
Even a low-dose — say, 100% RDV — will create an imbalance over time if supporting nutrients are not also supplemented at a similar rate. This can happen in mere weeks in the chronically ill. Doses higher than 100% will only hasten the imbalance.
Imbalances happen because each nutrient exists within a family of other nutrients. For example: Minerals interact tremendously with each other. Each mineral has a major partner, with whom powerful interactions, synergy, and opposition are in play.
The ratios of each mineral with A) its partner and B) other cofactor nutrients deeply matter for human health, and the body struggles to keep these ratios in balance during illness — due to aforementioned reasons.
The same is true for the fat-soluble vitamins and B-vitamins, two additional “nutrient families” for whom balance between nutrients is critical. There are even endless interactions between nutrients of different families — too many to properly be aware of on a day-to-day basis.
To supplement one nutrient, while avoiding a partner nutrient or other cofactors, will skew the ratios between nutrients over time.
These imbalances can be theoretically avoided by taking a blend of all nutrients in a family (or simply, all nutrients — as in a multivitamin) in a dosage around 100% of the RDV.
However, problems arise even with multivitamins: Very few multivitamins limit their dosages to around 100% RDV. In fact, most advertise their super-high doses as a selling point. There are other problems with most multi-vitamins, as well, including ingredient quality and imbalanced ingredients in the product, itself. It’s not uncommon to see 150% of one nutrient and 1100% of a partner nutrient.
On the other hand, if we supplement a nutrient at a moderate dose (around 100% RDV), we can usually take that nutrient about twice per week without causing terrible imbalances, provided there are no pre-existing nutrient imbalances (usually caused by uneven supplementation practices).
A twice-per-week dose of any nutrient allows for the benefits of said nutrient to be enjoyed while minimizing the risks of imbalance.
However, two things must be noted about thE 1-2x/week schedule:
Many factors will determine how well a twice-per-week dose improves your health: body size, nutrition in the diet, digestive health, and current nutritional status. It is possible to require weeks or months of ongoing supplementation with a nutrient to iron out pre-existing imbalances. This may continue for a few weeks or months until the imbalance is corrected. However, this can easily result in a “false-positive” as the new nutrient improves symptoms for weeks or months (as an old imbalance is corrected), only to “stop working” and begin to cause problems (as a new imbalance is created). This false positive is also observed in the first-time supplement-taker: Any single nutrient will almost certainly yield noticeable results until problems are created and the product is (hopefully) discontinued.
The most common symptoms of nutrient imbalance as a result of improper, unsafe supplementation are insomnia and fatigue. Dysregulated cognitive and emotional function can also present, as will digestive disturbances such as constipation, diarrhea, or food sensitivities. Nearly any nutrient, when too-high or too-low can and will cause these symptoms.
To maintain already-existing nutrient balance: A low-and-slow regimen is suggested, with infrequent, balanced supplementation of all nutrients. This can be achieved via low-dose multivitamin blends and wise individual nutrient supplementation — keeping in mind the 1-2x/week rule.
Low-dose multivitamins should not be taken daily to A) avoid over-supplementation and B) to allow the body to balance itself without the influx of supplemental nutrition. Perhaps most importantly, regular days off from nutritional products can provide an opportunity for observation of how one feels without the influence of supplements.
The way nutrient interactions work, it’s very possible to overdose on a single nutrient using common supplementation practices.
Just take one or multiple daily doses of a nutrient for weeks or months. Voila — levels in the body will likely become too high.
However, this is partly a “relative” imbalance, meaning an imbalance between one nutrient and its cofactors. This nutrient’s levels may not be terribly high yet, but if the cofactors’ levels are low in the body, we observe all the symptoms of moderate or major overdose.
When the cofactors’ levels are brought up, the oversupplied nutrient levels can begin to fall toward normal as the body metabolizes the excess nutrient.
(How badly a new imbalance affects you will depend on how strong or weak your body is — and whether you’re taking few enough supplements to notice why and when you start feeling worse).
To correct a relative imbalance, you must know which nutrients are needed — which nutrients are the main cofactors of your problem nutrient.
You should also know if you’ve taken any cofactors in excess in the past. If a cofactor nutrient has also already been supplemented in excess, taking more of it will not help, and will only make matters worse.
It requires a wise understanding of nutrient interactions to safely and properly lower an elevated level of any nutrient.
Of course, by far the simplest path is to avoid over-supplementation in the first place.