Is “Natural” Food Good for You?

I am often asked “If it is natural, it has to be good for you, right?” Not necessarily.

  • Lead and Arsenic are natural. They are both completely toxic to humans.
  • Too much Vitamin A can cause liver failure.
  • Too much Vitamin C or Calcium can cause kidney stones.
  • Too much Fluoride can cause brittle bones or stained teeth.
  • Gingko biloba, touted as a natural herb causes cancer in animals.

These are just a few of the “natural” elements, vitamins or herbs that can cause health problems.

Most Americans use supplements.. As a nation, we spend nearly thirty billion dollars on health food supplements. Enter a health food or nutrition store and you will be offered all kinds of health benefit claims. Many, nay perhaps most, of the claims are not scientifically proven. Claims may be offered in a limited way by persons who may be inadequately trained. But people buy because they are seeking a fix, trying to avoid a health risk, they distrust medical opinions or they don’t want to spend money getting learned medical advice.

Foods are fortified with vitamins and minerals for the general good health of the consumer.

Drinks are sold advertising they contain “important” vitamins and minerals.

But not all supplements will eventually be found safe for human consumption and caution must be exercised in the cumulative doses taken. Iodine was added to our salt for years and now we know that high doses can cause hyperthyroidism. Iron supplementation was generally considered good but now we know higher doses cause abdominal pain and constipation. Magnesium, in patients with kidney failure or heart blocks, can cause fatalities. High doses of Vitamin B6 can cause neurological damage. High doses of Niacin can cause liver damage.

So, if you choose to use a supplement:

  • Use a supplement that is as pure as can be.
  • Use a supplement that lists the quantity of the active ingredients.
  • Use a supplement from a reputable national company.
  • Monitor the cumulative amount of vitamins and minerals you consume.
  • Keep a watchful eye for any new scientific evidence that suggests risk.

Just as we are now learning that table salt, sugar, wheat, gluten, soy, lactose, etc. can cause health problems for some people, there is a reasonable chance fashionable supplements may be found to contain something that puts health at risk.

When you take supplements; it is “buyer beware”.


Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board-Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40-year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is a consultant to the Wisconsin Retail Food Establishment Grading Work Group; a Co-investigator in a CDC funded “Evaluation of Health Department Restaurant Inspection Programs” project. He has presented at several National, State and Regional conferences on restaurant grading and food safety. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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