Too Much of a Good Thing? Overloading on These 3 Nutrients Can Harm Your Brain

In our quest to be healthy, is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Absolutely.

Many nutrients influence neurotransmitter activity and brain function, but not always for the better. Copper, folic acid, and iron are three important, beneficial nutrients that can be harmful to your body and brain. Here’s how.


Copper is an essential nutrient that plays a role in a number of biological systems. Copper helps the cells of your body have structural and functional integrity. It also helps your cells produce energy, signal to one another, reproduce, and grow. Copper is a key defense against cellular oxidation and radiation. It helps form pigment and strengthens the connective tissues in your body.

Copper is a critically important nutrient for the human body. So how can you get too much of it?

Copper toxicity is a condition known as copperiedus and occurs when your plasma copper levels exceed 140 micrograms per deciliter. Common ways to develop copper toxicity include eating acidic foods cooked in uncoated copper cookware, taking dietary supplements, and drinking water than has been contaminated with copper.

Copper toxicity happens when extra copper in the liver overflows and builds up in the kidneys, brain, and eyes. This overload hampers both spatial memory and neuromuscular coordination functions of the brain. Too much copper can also reduce your body’s ability to absorb zinc and iron. Symptoms of copper overload include depression, anxiety, mood swings, fatigue, sleep problems, and headaches.

Folic Acid

Folate is a B vitamin found in fruits, vegetables, and seeds. Affecting mood and cognitive function, folate is critically important for the development and functioning of the nervous system.

Many people supplement with folic acid, which the body then converts into folate. Adults who are deficient in folate can experience depression and dementia. But can you have too much of a good thing when it comes to folic acid? Absolutely.

Older adults are commonly deficient in vitamin B12. When combined with a B12 deficiency, folic acid supplementation can present serious risks to the nervous system and cognitive functioning.

Folate is critical for developing embryos, and so in 1996 the US Food and Drug Administration started requiring food makers to add folic acid to grain products including flour, breads, pasta. While this strategy has been very effective in reducing neural tube birth defects across the country, many Americans are consuming excessive amounts of folic acid in the form of fortified foods, nutritional supplements, nutrition bars, and drinks.

One risk of consuming too much folic acid is that it may block the action of folate in the body. Synthetic folic acid – found in supplements and grain products – converts into folate in the digestive system. But if the digestive system is not able to adequately convert it, then synthetic folic acid circulates in the bloodstream. This prevents actual folate from getting into the cells of your body.

Folic acid overload can mask vitamin B12 deficiency in the body, causing it to progress to confusion, dementia, and damage to the nervous system. With an estimated 1 in 6 older adults deficient in B12, make sure your doctor knows about any folic acid supplements you take and closely monitors your folate levels.


Iron is a key nutrient that is used by the body to make a protein called hemoglobin. Without hemoglobin, red blood cells cannot transport oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

But too much iron can have serious health consequences.

Some people have genetic predispositions or disorders that result in iron overload; these include sickle cell disease, hereditary hemochromatosis, and others. You can also experience iron overload due to multiple blood transfusions, getting iron shots or injections, or consuming high levels of iron supplements.

Iron overload affects your heart, liver, and other organs. It creates oxidative stress in the brain and can also cause the mitochondria in your brain to malfunction, decreasing the effectiveness and integrity of brain cells and eventually leafing to neurodegeneration.

Copper, folic acid, and iron are all important nutrients for your body. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Overloading on these three key nutrients can cause short- and long-term cognitive impairments and dementia. Work with your doctor to make sure that your levels are right where they should be!

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© 2018 - 2020 by Tamara Claunch