Too much of a good thing

can i overdose on vitamins or cats?
It is possible to have too much of a good thing. Take sunshine, chocolate, aspirin, vitamin C and cats. A little bit of each is good, but taken to extremes you’ll suffer from sunburn, zits, stomach ulcers, diarrhoea and fur-balls.

A recent study showed that thousands of Australians are hospitalised due to the ill effects of medical treatment. While natural remedies are on the whole much safer, there still is a risk of overdoing it, especially if you are the sensitive type.

Vitamin C is a ‘good thing’, helping to to fortress the immune system against colds and infections. It is also a natural antihistamine, effective in hay-fever and allergies, and C’s the bees’ knees if you happen to have scurvy. But too much of this good thing will bring you to ‘bowel tolerance’, a threshold where the bowels take exception. For most people bowel tolerance occurs at around 15—20g (15,000—20,000mg),
but I have known some people to experience symptoms with as little as 2g. (I do not regularly recommend people taking vitamin C to the level of bowel tolerance, generally 1g a day is sufficient as a maintenance dose.)

Just as our noses and eyes differ, our internal anatomy and chemistry vary from individual to individual. The theory of biochemical individuality suggests we all have differing needs. Revolutionary isn’t it? Some bodies require more, or a lot less than the ‘average’ dose of drugs or for that matter vitamins or herbs. In practice, I find that if a person gets jittery with just one cup of coffee, or has a reaction to seemingly mild medical drugs, it’s odds on they will also be sensitive to herbs and other natural medicine. It might be a flight of fancy, but I think these folk tend to be emotionally more sensitive as well.

Licorice (not the kind in brown paper bags dispensed by ladies in pink bows) is an excellent remedy for stress, colitis and even menopause. Unfortunately, long-term use of licorice may deplete the body of the mineral, potassium. Some super-sensitive people may experience side-effects such as fluid retention with far less than the normal dose. Korean ginseng, another herbal gem, is great for fatigue and stress, most people find it great, but some people break out in anxiety attacks.

Herbs, vitamins and minerals generally are safe, however just as some people are allergic or sensitive to medical drugs, the same is possible for natural medicines. Also, even though a particular herb or vitamin sounds good, it may not be the most appropriate remedy for you. It is best to ask someone properly trained in the area: a naturopath. That’s what we do!


Most people acknowledge vitamin C is a good for you. It helps fortify the immune system against colds and infections, it is an antihistamine in hayfever and allergies, and if you happen to have a case of scurvy, C’s the vitamin for you. But too much of this good thing will give you the trots in a big way. Known as ‘bowel tolerance’, the condition describes the fact each of us can consume a certain amount of vitamin C before the bowels take exception. For some people this can be 5g (5,000mg) a day, for others, it is 20g. The moral of the story is that each one of us reacts differently. Known as biochemical individuality, some people tolerate (and need) a lot of vitamin C (or any other nutrient) others,
just a little. I find, in general, if a person is sensitive to medical drugs and even alcohol and coffee, it’s odds on they will be sensitive
to herbs and other natural medicine.

Just as some people are allergic or sensitive to medical drugs, the same is possible for natural medicines. I would be distraught if garlic were unavailable. Fresh garlic is effective against certain bacteria (including helicobacter pylori, the stomach ulcer bacteria), fungus (including candida albicans, the thrush fungus) and certain intestinal worms and parasites (including roundworm and giardia). Garlic helps prevent heart
disease, having a lowering effect on blood fats, blood clotting, cholesterol and even blood pressure. Garlic contains selenium, an important antioxidant. Everyone should eat garlic; however, some people are allergic or sensitive to it. More than 3 or 4 fresh cloves (and I have heard of 20 cloves a day being prescribed) can cause the stomach lining to become irritated and inflamed.

Mawson, the Antarctic explorer, witnessed possibly the first death from vitamin A toxicity: that of his fellow explorer, Dr Xavier Mertz, who had eaten one dog liver too many (they had lost their food supplies). The dogs had eaten seals and fish and their livers had accumulated incredible amounts of vitamin A. What is fascinating is that the symptoms of vitamin A toxicity are the same as vitamin A deficiency: dry, cracking skin
and declining vision. There was a reported incident of birth defect where the mother was taking rather large doses (25,000iu). While there
is no way that anyone can obtain that much vitamin A from a normal diet, it is recommended to consume less than 5,000iu per day.

Licorice is another favourite — not the kind in brown paper bags. Licorice is excellent for stress as it supports the adrenal glands. It is used extensively as an anti-inflammatory, especially for inflammatory gastro things like stomach ulcers and colitis; it is slipped into menopause formulas as it contains the fashionable plant hormones (phytoestrogen) but, having similar properties to cortisol, it should not, herbalists know, be given to people with high blood pressure, nor given as a long-term treatment. Long-term use of licorice is not recommended as it can deplete potassium, and may increase blood pressure as a result. I have a couple of patients who react to the tiniest dose of licorice by becoming water-logged.

Korean ginseng, priceless and pricey, is not to be given to people with anxiety: it will only make things worse.