Are You Going Through A Paradoxical Reaction? The Risks of Supplementation

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

Adrenal supplements and paradoxical reactionSupplements. The right one at the right time in the right dosage can be exactly what your body needs to get over that hump when recovering from a health condition. Even if you are eating healthy, nutritional gaps are bound to happen once in a while, and if you’re not in shape these little gaps can add up. So what better way to ensure you’re on track than by taking a few supplements? The only problem, though, is that you might end up with a paradoxical reaction, even if you’re doing everything right.

Paradoxical reactions are basically reactions that are the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve through the use of a supplement or treatment… the opposite of what is usually expected. Of course, you already understand that some medications and treatments have side-effects, but you probably didn’t pay much attention to the risk of taking supplements, especially those labeled as all-natural and organic.

Supplements can take many different forms, from vitamins and minerals, to herbs and glandulars. They can be used to fill in the nutritional gaps, as stated before, but they can also be used in therapeutic doses, which are doses that are higher than the usual recommended dosage, in order to boost a certain function. Anything used medicinally or therapeutically, including all-natural and organic supplements, can cause a paradoxical reaction in any dose, high or low. The weaker the person , the greater the risk. Examples of paradoxical reactions can include:

  • Feeling anxious when taking magnesium instead of calming
  • Unable to sleep when taking melatonin, a sleep aid
  • Experiencing constipation instead of loose bowel at bowel tolerance level of vitamin C
  • Feeling jittery with heavy menses when taking progesterone

Paradoxical reactions can occur at any dose. For example, taking a vitamin D3 supplement regularly is good for you if you don’t get enough of it through sun-exposure and diet. That would be a regular dose to fill in a nutritional gap. On the other hand, taking an adrenal glandular in the beginning stages of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) can help give you more energy and reduce anxiety, but it is not to be taken on an ongoing basis and may carry a high risk for paradoxical reactions. The weaker the person, the greater the risk. A paradoxical reaction, in this case, could look like even more fatigue and anxiety.

Adrenal fatigue occurs when your body is undergoing chronic stress, whether due to psychological or physical issues. In the beginning stages of AFS, your adrenals produce more cortisol than average in order to meet the growing demand for its stress-reducing activity. As the condition advances, however, your adrenals weaken to the point of not being able to produce enough cortisol.

Symptoms of AFS include fatigue, weight gain, insomnia, mild depression, anxiety, hair loss, brain fog, PMS, infertility, low libido, frequent colds and touches of flu, salt and sugar cravings, hypoglycemia, heart palpitations, intolerance to stress, and many others.

The adrenal glands are part of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) hormonal axis, which is part of the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response’s hormone circuit. The NEM is your body’s global response to stress, and its other five circuits are the bioenergetic, the neuroaffect, the cardionomic, the inflammation, and the detoxification circuits.

Though all of these circuits are engaged in some way when you experience a paradoxical reaction, the one that is most pertinent to understand is the detoxification circuit.

How a Paradoxical Reaction is Affected by the Detoxification Circuit

Paradoxical reaction feeling badThe NEM’s detoxification circuit involves the interstitium, the liver and the immune system, in addition, there are other systems that play a role in detox as well like the lymphatic system, the extracellular matrix, and the kidneys. Its role is to clear out toxins and metabolites from your body in a timely fashion so that they don’t accumulate and raise your toxicity levels. When your body’s toxicity is elevated, it can create a state of inflammation, premature cell death, and cellular debris.

Toxins create congestion in the interstitium, the fluid space that connects all cells, and they can also enter the intracellular space where they damage mitochondria and other organelles. Mitochondria are your cells’ energy factories, so damage to them will decrease energy and create a state of fatigue. The liver, which is your body’s main clearinghouse, can become overloaded with toxins and metabolites. And a congested liver will affect every other organ and system in the body.

If the liver is not in optimal health, your detoxification circuit will slow down and its burden will increase. Different signs and symptoms of toxicity will tell you this is happening. The main one being an increase in sensitivity and eventual intolerance to supplements, medications, and chemicals. This is when you are most at risk for a paradoxical reaction, because instead of a supplement actually supporting your health, it is adding to the toxic load and stressing out your detoxification circuit even more.

Other signs of a dysfunctional detoxification circuit include insomnia, gastric bloating, food sensitivities, constipation, pain of unknown origin that keeps moving from place to place, dizziness, fatigue, electrolyte imbalance, anxiety, tingling, acute flare-ups of autoimmune symptoms, psoriasis, burning sensation in the mouth, heart palpitations and intolerance to stress.

As you can see, some of these symptoms are similar to those of adrenal fatigue, as well as other conditions, and so congestion of the NEM’s detoxification circuit is not so easy to spot. Usually, one of the clearest and most obvious signs is a paradoxical reaction to a supplement that you used to be able to handle before.

But, if you are in advanced stages of AFS, you can be sure that your detoxification circuit will slow down at some point anyway until your adrenals are back to full strength and your energy levels are back to normal. That’s because when you are low on energy, the body shuts down or slows down many functions in order to conserve energy. The liver and the extracellular matrix, as well as other housekeeping organs and systems, need energy to be active at full capacity. When there isn’t enough energy, they slow down too.

Another common paradoxical reaction that can occur at this point is a worsening of the symptoms of toxicity when doing a detox. Instead of feeling clearer and healthier, the release of built-up toxins makes you feel iller. Although it’s normal to get a few symptoms when doing a detox, a trend towards decline is not a good sign.

This is why we don’t advise those suffering from more advanced stages of AFS, or other chronic conditions, to do a detox until they are further along in recovery. You need your adrenals to be functioning and to have enough energy to handle the stress of a detox.

Common Paradoxical Reactions to Common Supplements

Make sure you understand how supplements relate to paradoxical reaction
A few frequently used nutritional, herbal and glandular adrenal fatigue supplements that can trigger a paradoxical reaction deserve to be mentioned, so you are armed with all the information you need before putting together your supplement toolbox. Here are more examples.

Vitamins and Minerals:

  • Vitamin B12 – one of the most dangerous deficiencies nowadays is vitamin B12 deficiency, and it is especially important for those on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Just be aware that very high doses can be too stimulating for your system if you have AFS, and that if you decide to stop taking the supplement, it should be tapered off gradually.
  • Vitamin C – paradoxical reactions of vitamin C in a system that’s congested include anxiety, fatigue, diarrhea, and joint pain. It’s also not safe for those with kidney problems or hemochromatosis, the elderly, or those taking high doses of calcium.
  • Vitamin E – like vitamin C, vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, which can be very useful for those with AFS. But, because it is metabolized in the liver, if your detoxification circuit is not working properly and your liver is already overloaded, it may not be the right time to take it.
  • Coenzyme 1 (NADH) – because this supplement helps make dopamine, which is a precursor to adrenaline and norepinephrine, too much of it can create a reactive sympathoadrenal response if you are in a very sensitive or weak state.
  • Collagen – in very advanced cases of AFS, there can be a loss of muscle mass. Collagen can help restore the lost muscle mass, and it is a generally safe supplement. However, too high of a dose can cause discomfort in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Inositol – although this is a good supplement for mood, sleep and relaxation, it can sometimes mess with blood sugar levels. So if you are diabetic, pre-diabetic, or just have blood sugar control issues, then you need to be careful with it.
  • D-ribose – this supplement is sometimes helpful for those with AFS because it can increase energy levels, but it is not recommended for those with blood sugar imbalances, pregnant women, young children, or nursing mothers.
  • Magnesium – another common deficiency right now is magnesium deficiency, and it is also a very dangerous deficiency. So it may be a crucial part of your supplement toolbox. Still, it does carry a risk of a paradoxical reaction for those with AFS, including increased anxiety, irritation, constipation and fatigue.

Herbs and Glandulars:

  • Ashwagandha – this adaptogenic herb can help your body adapt better to stress, but if you are in more advanced stages of AFS, you need to be careful with it.
  • Ginseng – there are two main types of ginseng that can help boost energy for those with AFS: Korean and Siberian ginseng. Siberian ginseng can be useful for men and women, while Korean ginseng should be used only by men as it can give women acne and facial hair.
  • Thyroid glandular – this glandular can help you with hypothyroidism, but be aware that if you take both a glandular and thyroid medication, you may end up with a hyperactive thyroid.
  • Adrenal glandular – if your adrenal glands are too weak, taking an adrenal glandular may trigger a paradoxical reaction, and it will also slow down the natural healing process of your adrenals if you take it for too long.

Generally speaking, you shouldn’t shun all supplements because there is a risk for negative effects. The trick is to take the right supplements for your specific condition, in the right doses and at the time in your recovery journey. And, it is always a good idea to support your detoxification circuit so that the supplements you do take don’t add to your body’s toxic load.

How to Improve Your Detoxification Circuit

The first thing to accept is that it takes time and patience. The second thing to understand is that every person is different, and so you will need to follow an individualized plan. And finally, your approach has to be holistic – tackling diet, exercise, stress, sleep and supplements altogether.

Just doing a detox without a solid recovery underway is not a good idea. Also, just taking up some random detox plan that is not designed for you can be inefficient at best and harmful at worst. That’s because the type of detox that suits you will really depend on so many factors, such as your age, health condition, the risks of detoxification, your medical history, what medications you are taking, and, of course, how strong your adrenals are at the moment.

So, if you really feel the need to focus on your detoxification circuit, we advise you get guidance from an experienced medical professional. The same goes for putting together your supplement toolbox.

In the meantime, you should focus on adrenal fatigue recovery since it is by default a very gentle and healthy way to improve your entire NEM, including the detoxification circuit. The adrenal fatigue diet is one of the best ways to support your system and begin to clear away toxins and congestion. And, because it is so well-rounded, you won’t need to take too many supplements and increase your risk of a paradoxical reaction.

© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

The billion-dollar supplement industry is counting on labels like natural and organic to make you think taking supplements is totally safe. But without proper research, you might take the wrong supplements at the wrong time in the wrong dosage and end up with a paradoxical reaction.

Paradoxical reaction
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Thank you so much Dr Lam for the mini book of fatigued out of life. It was great information as I have just discovered and been diagnosed with this. I felt I was going mad and had no answers and this information pin pointed my symptoms and feelings to a tea! Thank you once again! Connie