YOU might hear ‘overdose’ and automatically think of prohibited substances or chemicals.
But for many of us, overdosing could be something we’re doing every day, without even thinking.
From the pills in our first aid bag, to foods, drinks and supplements that we take daily, these experts reveal how you might be slipping into overdose territory…
1. Vitamin D supplements
You may turn to vitamin D supplementation to give your immunity a boost, especially in winter.
“However, few are aware that excessive intake of vitamin D supplements can lead to elevated levels of calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia), and may increase the risk of kidney stones,” warns nutritionist Caroline Farrell.
“I recommend testing vitamin D before taking doses higher than the recommended daily allowance and monitoring your levels every six to 12 months.”
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Currently the NHS says that 10 micrograms a day will be enough for most people.
The word microgram is sometimes written with the Greek symbol μ followed by the letter g (μg).
If you plan on taking more, it might be worth visiting your GP who can check your levels of this essential vitamin.
MAX DAILY AMOUNT: 10 micrograms (10μg)
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“Unfortunately, most people are overdosing daily on sugar and it has a very detrimental effect on health,” says Mays Al-Ali, nutritionist and yoga teacher.
“Sugars are hidden in so many foods, so you really have to be a detective to avoid them – from sugary cereals, adding sugar to tea and coffee, eating too much high-sugar fruit such as grapes, bananas and dried fruit, to the obvious cakes, biscuits, chocolate.”
Mays says that too much sugar over the long term can lead to serious health complications, including diabetes, tooth decay and headaches.
MAX DAILY AMOUNT: The NHS recommends that adults and children over 11 eat no more than 30g of free sugars (AKA, added sugars), a day. For context, a Mars Bar contains about 20g of sugar.
Children aged seven to 10 should have no more than 24g of free sugars a day, while those aged four to six should have no more than 19g.
3. Dark Chocolate
You may think you’re being healthier by opting for dark chocolate. But you can have too much of a good thing.
Mays explains that cacao in dark chocolate is known to balance our gut microbiome in a positive way, increasing Bifidobacterium and lactobacillus; two important species of bacteria.
But, cacao does also have caffeine in it and therefore can disturb sleep.
Cacao also contains theobromine, a calming molecule which stops chocolate from imbalancing our nervous system.
But Mays says: “Having too much later in the evening should be avoided.”
Having dark chocolate may also lull people into a false sense of security about how much sugar they are consuming.
Mays says: “I always go for 100 per cent dark chocolate to avoid the sugar hit – even having too much of the 70 to 80 per cent dark chocolate will increase the sugar content in your diet, which is not ideal.”
MAX DAILY AMOUNT: Mays says that it’s best to aim for no more than two chunks of dark chocolate per day.
If you struggle with gut issues, then having too many chickpeas can cause bloating, flatulence, cramping and discomfort.
Mays explains that chickpeas are a high FODMAP food, meaning they are high in short-chain carbohydrates (sugars).
Some people experience cramping, diarrhoea, constipation, bloating and gas if they eat a high FODMAP diet.
Other foods these people are wary of include apples, grapes, yoghurts, baked beans, most breakfast cereals and honey.
Mays says: “If you buy dried versions [of chickpeas], soak them for 12 hours and then cook them, removing the white fart foam, as I call it, that is created when boiled and adding some of the spice asafetida whilst cooking.
“This helps to reduce the bloating issues more than eating canned chickpeas when they aren’t soaked first.”
MAX DAILY AMOUNT: People can easily eat one to two cans of beans or pulses as part of their daily diet, and a diet with some meat alternatives is recommended for good health. But if it causes you discomfort, see if cutting down helps.
5. Iron supplements
Caroline warns people against taking iron supplements unless they are deficient in the nutrient.
“Many people take iron when they feel tired but it should only be taken if you have a diagnosed deficiency,” reveals Caroline.
She says that excess iron (over 20mg per day) can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, and in severe cases, damage to the liver and other organs.
Very high doses of iron can be fatal, particularly if taken by children, the NHS says, warning to keep supplements out of reach of kids.
MAX DAILY AMOUNT: A high dose is considered more than 20mg per day. But the NHS says the amount of iron you need is:
- 8.7mg a day for men aged 19 and over
- 14.8mg a day for women aged 19 to 49
- 8.7mg a day for women aged 50 and over
Although fish and other seafood contain protein as well as several other nutrients needed for good health, Mays warns that our oceans do contain high levels of heavy metals, especially mercury.
“The larger fish such as tuna and swordfish have a lot of mercury as they are high up in the food chain and very fatty so these should be avoided and if we eat too many of them they can cause toxicity in the body,” she says.
Smaller fish like sardines and anchovies have less mercury as they are lower in the food chain.
And generally, people do not eat enough fish, which is beneficial for heart health.
MAX DAILY AMOUNT: Eat one to two portions of fish a week, including one oily fish, such as salmon and sardines.
Girls, women who are planning to have a child one day, or pregnant or breastfeeding women should not eat any more, as pollutants in oily fish can affect the future development of a baby.
When it comes to white fish, do not eat too much sea bream, sea bass, turbot, halibut or rock salmon.
You would never think it, but liquorice is a potential health hazard for some.
Liquorice can potentially cause serious health problems in people over the age of 40 years old with high blood pressure or heart disease, or both.
It could cause an irregular heart rhythm, known as arrhythmia.
MAX DAILY AMOUNT: Mays says: “Studies show that these problems can occur if you're eating more than 57g of black liquorice a day across a span of two weeks.”
Overdosing on paracetamol, a common over-the-counter pain relief, is easily done if you’re not keeping track of timings.
“Overdosing on paracetamol can occur when individuals take multiple medications that contain it simultaneously, often without realising they are exceeding the recommended dose,” explains Dr Johannes Uys, is a GP at Broadgate General Practice.
“Some cold and flu remedies, for instance, may contain paracetamol along with other ingredients which can soon take you over the limit.”
He warns that paracetamol overdose can cause serious liver damage, which may not manifest symptoms immediately.
In severe cases, it can lead to liver failure which would need urgent medical attention.
MAX DAILY AMOUNT: Read packaging and follow intake guidelines to avoid overdosing.
Most people can get by on one or two coffees a day, if that – and there's no harm in liking coffee, which has been shown in some studies to be beneficial to health.
But Mays says: “I often see clients who have five or six coffees a day.”
She explains that coffee has a strong physiological effect on our nervous system.
“The high caffeine content not only blocks sleep as it stops deep quality restorative sleep – even in those who can drink a double espresso at midnight and fall asleep OK," she adds.
“But coffee on an empty stomach affects digestion negatively as it’s very acidic.
"It also imbalances our hormones and female cycle as it's heavy for the liver to metabolise which also needs to metabolise our hormones.”
If you want to cut back, Mays says that she recommends just one coffee, ideally drunk before 11am but also 90 minutes after waking.
MAX DAILY AMOUNT: Several sources suggest that 400mg of caffeine per day — the equivalent of four cups of coffee — is safe for most healthy adults.
10. Peanut butter
Whether eaten alone or spread on toast, us Brits love peanut butter.
But, Dr Uys says that while peanut butter itself isn't inherently dangerous, “overconsumption can lead to excessive calorie intake and potential weight gain if not managed as part of a balanced diet”.
He adds that sometimes, PB can be more vulnerable to contamination from a mould called Aspergillus flavus which can produce a toxin called aflatoxin.
“In large quantities, aflatoxin toxicity can result in nausea, abdominal pain, convulsions, vomiting, and other signs of acute liver injury,” he explains.
However, Dr Uys does add that aflatoxin can’t form once peanut butter has been packaged and sealed.
And you would have to consume a lot of peanut butter to start seeing symptoms of aflatoxin toxicity.
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“You’d probably be more concerned about the amount of fat you’re consuming if eating peanut butter in such large quantities," says Dr Uys.
MAX DAILY AMOUNT: For weight reasons, "it’s generally advisable to consume no more than two tablespoons per day,” says Dr Uys.
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