Too Much Of A Good Thing: Can You Overdo Healthy Habits?

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Every now and then, you’ll see a news headline about someone who drank too much water and collapsed after an extreme sporting event. Or maybe you heard about someone who ate too much turmeric — a popular spice linked with relieving pain and inflammation. But even amateur athletes and health-conscious eaters can overdo good habits.

“It’s not uncommon for us to think more of a good thing is always better,” says Kelly Nohl, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Henry Ford Health System. “But you can get too much of a good thing. Anything that’s good for you also has the potential to be harmful.”

Are You Overdoing It?

When you learn about a new way to enhance your health and well-being, your natural instinct may be to jump in with both feet. Not so fast. Here are four ways people overdo diet and exercise:

  1. Water: While it’s rare to drink too much water, it’s not impossible. The condition even has a name: hyponatremia. When it happens, excess water dilutes sodium in the bloodstream, which can lead to impaired brain function and even death. Hyponatremia is most common among hardcore athletes and people who force themselves to hydrate. Downing too much water can also be dangerous for people who have certain medical conditions, including coronary heart disease and congestive heart failure. Bottom line: Fluid needs vary depending on gender, activity level, body size and how much you sweat. More is not always better.

    What to do
    : Pay attention to your urine. If you’re well hydrated, your urine will be light yellow, the color of lemonade. For most people, eight glasses of water each day is a good baseline. Modify your intake based on factors such as activity level, weather and diet.
  2. Exercise: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate activity weekly, along with at least two days of exercises that work all of the major muscle groups. It can be tempting to push yourself harder, especially if you’re a weekend warrior. Unfortunately, too much activity can cause muscle cramps, injury, sore muscles or even a serious health condition like a heart attack that could take you out of the game completely.

    What to do
    : Start slowly and gradually increase your activity level over time. Then, listen to your body. If your injury is causing pain, back off. You may be mentally ready to take a 90-minute spin class, but your body may need time to get up to speed.
  3. Supplements: If you take vitamins and minerals you could be getting too much of certain nutrients. Eating fortified foods, which often contain 100% or more of the recommended dietary allowance for certain vitamins and minerals, increases that risk. Some nutrients can be harmful if you get too much of them. For example, too much vitamin A during pregnancy can lead to birth defects. Too much vitamin C can cause diarrhea. And too much B6 can damage nerves.

    What to do
    : Talk to your doctor, who can test your blood levels of specific nutrients. You may need a dietary supplement if you have certain health conditions or if your diet is lacking.
  4. Foods: Even nutritious foods like olive oil and fish can become problematic in excess. Olive oil is loaded with calories and fat. Fish, especially large varieties like swordfish and mackerel, may contain potentially dangerous levels of mercury. Even seemingly innocuous foods can have ill effects if you eat too much of them. For example, overdoing carrots can result in orange skin and the oxalates in leafy greens can interfere with nutrient absorption and cause stomach upset.

    What to do
    : Focus on eating a well-rounded diet, including fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy.

Striking a Balance

There’s wisdom behind the old adage, “everything in moderation.” Drink too much water and you could overtax your organs. Run too hard and you increase your risk of injury. Eating too much of any one food leaves less room for other nutrients.

“Whether food, exercise, supplements or hydration, the focus should be on balance,” Nohl says. Keep that basic principle in mind and you probably won’t have to worry.


To find a doctor, registered dietitian or athletic trainer at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936). Want more health and wellness advice? Subscribe to our health and wellness newsletter to get all the latest tips.

Kelly Nohl is a registered dietitian nutritionist for the Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.  

Categories: FeelWell

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