The Fallacy of “High Potency” in Vitamin Dosage

By Dr. Royal Lee

Summary: There’s no harm in taking high doses of synthetic vitamins, right? That’s what most people believe anyway. Even many health practitioners think so. Yet early nutrition research showed clearly that ingesting large doses of synthetic, non-food-based supplements (what pass as “vitamins” in today’s world) can have serious consequences on your health. For instance, as Dr. Royal Lee points out in this 1950 article, even a moderate excess of synthetic thiamine (vitamin B1) induced disorders such as herpes zoster, hyperthyroidism, gallstones, and sterility in test subjects, and high doses of synthetic vitamin E caused calcium loss in the bones of test animals—the very opposite of the intended effect. The latter case, Dr. Lee says, illustrates the “little known and highly important” fact that high doses of a synthetic vitamin can cause the very same symptoms as a deficiency of that vitamin. Thus long-term use of most any supplement sold today may only make worse the condition it’s being taken for—something to think about your next trip down the vitamin aisle. Published by the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research, circa 1950.

[The following is a transcription of the original Archives document. To view or download the original document, click here.]

The Fallacy of “High Potency” in Vitamin Dosage

The use of nutritional factors involves the question of correct dosage. The biggest mistake made in the art of therapeutics or nutrition is in assuming that “if a little is good, more is better.”

We use vitamins as food. We all know that if we get good results from ingesting the normal daily requirement of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, then we would be morons to assume we would get twice-as-good effects from twice the normal schedules of bread, butter, meat, milk, and potatoes.

But the sales managers of vitamin products, who know how to hoodwink the public in prescribing the kind of label that will sell the product, make the mistake of loading up the formula with ten times the daily requirement of the cheap synthetic kind of vitamins for the purpose of making the prospective buyer think he is getting a “high potency” product that will stimulate his tired muscles in a hurry. In the same formula, you will find less than the daily requirement of the more costly components, and none of factors, such as B4 or B12, that have yet to be “accepted” as necessary to human nutrition. The gullible buyer is supposed to overlook this.

The physician who knows his beans (and vitamins) realizes that all foods contribute their definite proportions to the metabolic reactions that we call life, and any unbalance is unwise. The only possible argument for higher intakes of any food factor (other than to get a drug effect, like using table salt as an emetic) would be to replenish reserve stores. But again, few vitamins are subject to storage—the water-soluble factors especially, passing out the kidneys at a rate proportional to their levels in the bloodstream. There is ample proof that unbalances in vitamin intake are worse than deficiency.1,2

But there is another principle that is little known and highly important to this question of dosage. It is the fact that many [isolated] vitamins may cause, in excess quantities, the same symptoms as are caused by their deficiency.

For instance, vitamin B1 in small doses can cure herpes zoster; yet in large doses, it can cause herpes zoster.3a,4  And while a deficiency of vitamin B1 causes symptoms similar to hyperthyroidism, an excess of the same vitamin causes similar symptoms.3b,5

Dr. Mills said, “The symptoms (of B1 toxicity) resemble closely those of hyperthyroidism and at times become quite acute. Since thiamine has been held to be entirely nontoxic and since it has attained such wide usage in both lay and medical hands, it seems that this overdosage toxicity should receive careful and immediate attention.” (Any attention given Dr. Mills’ discovery has apparently been aimed at suppressing it. The literature is very silent on the subject.)

There is an increase in the pyruvic acid content of B-deficient rats, according to Laszt, a German investigator.14 And there is an increase in pyruvic acid in the blood of human patients after prolonged treatment with thiamine, according to Swedish investigators.15 Pyruvic acid being a fatigue poison, it is evident that if one tries to ward off fatigue by taking more and more thiamine, he is likely to be badly deceived.

In addition to reversing its effect when given in more than the normal requirement, thiamine has other disturbing toxic effects. It can cause gallstones, according to one report.9 It can also cause fatty degeneration of the liver; and choline or lipocaic—ordinarily effective in preventing such changes—is ineffective in this case.16,17 Deaths in human patients from liver disease aggravated by thiamine treatment have been confidently reported to us by various physicians who discovered the effect too late. The fatal dose of thiamine in the human patient is about one-tenth the milligrams-per-kilo lethal dose for test animals.18

In some test animals, Dr. Barnet Sure reports that only twice the daily requirement of thiamine for lactating mothers results in sterility if continued over two generations. Dr. N. Philip Norman should have had this fact before him when he wrote his article “Unfitting the Unborn.”10 If you want to castrate your children or grandchildren, here is a very clever way of accomplishing it.11

Because of its cheapness, vitamin D is always a favored one with which to load a proprietary food formula to gull the buyer into thinking it is highly “potent.” Our most authoritative work on the subject, The Vitamins in Medicine,3d advises: “Vitamin D is an extremely powerful drug. Poisoning has been widely reported, even being fatal, so that the use of large doses of vitamin D is only justified if the patient is under constant supervision.” The authors, Bicknell and Prescott, go on to say that synthetic forms of vitamin D are more poisonous than natural forms and that fish liver sources only should be used in case of high “potency” doses. The danger of the synthetic vitamin D is exemplified by the report in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Bauer and Freyburg,12 who tell how children have keen fatally poisoned by the synthetic form when given in no greater amounts than recommended by the maker for the prevention of rickets.

Again, the natural vitamin pattern as found in fish liver oils (vitamins A, D, and F) has been found the only effective proportion in the use of cod liver oil as an ointment to hasten the healing of surgical or traumatic wounds. Any meddling with these proportions with the objective of improving the “potency” has resulted in the loss of effectiveness, according to the surgeons who depend on this product and observe its performance.13 The surgeon who is watching the healing of an arm stump left after the hand has been shredded in a cotton gin is a little better able to report results with accuracy than the pediatrician who wonders why little Ann has hemorrhages from the kidneys after a few months on viosterol.

Vitamin D in overdosage also reverses the effect of mild dosage. In deficiency there is a negative calcium balance; in excess there is also a negative calcium balance. Only the nutritional dosage promotes assimilation of calcium.

Vitamin E is involved too in calcium assimilation and retention. In a deficiency of E, there is a loss of bone calcium. In an excess of vitamin E, there is also a loss of bone calcium,3c according to tests on rats, who develop soft skulls on an E-deficient diet and again suffer bone decalcification on an excess of pure tocopherols.

Vitamin K is another nutritional factor having a reverse action in overdosage. A reversal of prothrombin time [PT] was observed both in test animals and human patients.6

The writer reported this principle of reversal of vitamin action by overdosage first in Vitamin News, page 131, March 1940, and the explanation there suggested that it was due to the exhaustion of an essential synergist. If you open the damper of a stove that has a limited amount of fuel and thereby afford a greater supply of oxygen, the first effect is an increase of heat. But too great an oxygen supply serves only to waste the fuel and hasten the time when the stove is again cold but now from a lack of the solid component of the combustion reaction instead of a lack of air.

Suppose there were an arrangement by which a small but continuous supply of fuel was being fed into the fire pot. Too little air would mean too cold a stove; too much air—ditto. The right amount of air [would give] the correct performance. It is just that simple. The sudden death of Dr. Morgan’s dogs on enriched diets is just as simple.2 Too much air for the fuel available can soon put out the flame.

We believe that the major influence that has kept these simple principles from universal acceptance is the propaganda of makers of “enriched” foods and the synthetic vitamin promoters, whose business success depends on making imitations at a cut price that drive the good products off the market. The buyer of a cheap imitation that pays the maker a 20% profit besides a 30% advertising budget cannot see the real value of a natural complex, containing only the daily requirement, that needs no advertising campaign to sell it and that only affords the maker a 5 to 10 percent profit. At least he cannot see the difference until he makes the test. That is the ace in the hole that protects the maker of the scientifically designed product, made to do a job instead of being made to fit a label designed as bait for the unwary.

Did you ever see an advertising campaign addressed to selling wheat germ or butter? Why not? It sells without advertising. The makers of synthetic substitutes are the ones who spend millions advertising—on glucose, corn syrup, oleo, hydrogenated fats, soft drinks, white flour. They have to advertise, and still there is no shortage like there is of honest foodstuffs. Butter and beefsteak still command high prices and deserve to.

In a recent issue of a miller’s journal, there appeared an article entitled “Deaf Smith County Debunked.”7 It shows to what lengths the millers will go to misrepresent the facts. The fact is when the state of Texas took heed of the rumors that no tooth decay existed in Deaf Smith County except what was imported and sent a committee of dentists to find out, the dentists looked at seventy-three native-born sons and daughters of Deaf Smith County before they found their first cavity in a tooth.

The article quotes the words of Dr. Leonard A. Maynard of Cornell to the effect that analyses show the level of minerals in the milk is in no way affected by the nature of the feed of the cow. Therefore the beef and milk from Deaf Smith County are no better than if from any other place. What is wrong with that argument? Simply that the alterations in milk or meat that result from deficiency are often so insidious and gradual that there is no way but a feeding test to ascertain the deficiency. It is the most incredible fact that self-appointed “experts” have constantly been available to swear away the national health by such statements.

As a good example, you might look into the shortcomings of pasteurized milk and bleached flour, in both of which the loss of the enzyme “phosphatase” (phytase) has rendered them incompetent to accomplish their normal function of facilitating the assimilation of calcium and phosphorus.8,19 Up to now all official nutritional experts and biochemists have sworn that milk and flour are not adversely affected by this processing wholly on a theoretical basis, ignoring feeding tests on animals or clinical experience in human subjects. The first oleo, made seventy years ago, was pronounced by “experts” to be the equivalent of butter before vitamins were ever heard of.

We have prepared more detailed information on this partnership between food racketeers and our government and most universities. [See “How Our Government Subsidizes Malnutrition and Disease” and “How and Why Synthetic Poisons Are Being Sold as Imitations of Natural Foods and Drugs” in these archives.]

By Royal Lee. The Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research, Reprint 25B, circa 1950.


1. Richards, M.B. “Imbalance of Vitamin B Factors.” British Medical Journal, March 31, 1945, p. 4395.
2. Morgan, Agnes Fay. “The Effect of Imbalance in the ‘Filtrate Fraction’ of the Vitamin B Complex in Dogs.” Science, March 14, 1941, p. 261.
3. Bicknell and Prescott. The Vitamins In Medicine. Grune & Stratton, 1951, pp. 180 (a), 269 (b), 735 (c), and 696 (d).
4. Goodman, M.J. “Herpes Zoster Treatment with Thiamine Chloride,” Journal of A.M.A., 113, 16:1518, Oct. 4, 1939.
5. Address of Dr. Clarence A. Mills before N.Y. Academy of Medicine, reported in Milwaukee Journal under heading “B1 in Excess May Be Toxic,” April 3, 1941. (These types of reports, adverse to the sale of synthetic foods, are usually suppressed by the editors of medical journals, never appearing again in their proper medium but leaking out in press dispatches at the time of delivery. That is why Morris Fishbein is still editor-in-chief of the Index Medicus and associate editor of the International Medical Index. In our humble opinion, he guards the gates of medical information. We consider him the No. 1 specialist in medical and food skullduggery in this country.)
6. Nutrition Reviews, May 1949, p. 158.
7. “Deaf Smith County Debunked.” Northwestern Miller, August 29, 1950, p. 25.
8. Lee, Royal. “The Importance of Food Enzymes in Promoting Mineral Assimilation.” [The Lee Foundation of Nutritional Research], April 2, 1950.
9. “Hypervitaminotic Gallstones.” Journal of A.M.A., June 12, 1943, 122:444.
10. Norman, N. Philip, MD. “Unfitting the Unborn.” Let’s Live, April, 1950, p. 7.
11. The Journal of Nutrition, August 10, 1939, 18, 2:192–193.
12. Bauer and Freyburg. “Vitamin D Intoxication with Metastic Calcification.” Journal of A.M.A., April 27, 1946, 130:1208.
13. Hamlin, PC, MD, FACS. “Cod Liver Oil Therapy of Wounds & Burns.” The Southern Surgeon, pp. 301–338.
14. Laszt. “Physiol. Vitamin B and Adrenal Cortex.” L. Schweiz, 1938, 13, 17–21.
15. Carlstrom and Lovgren. Acta Med. Scand., 105:594–600, 1940.
16. Engel and Phillips. Journal of Biol. Chem., 128, 3:XXV, June 1939.
17. Journal of Nutrition, 18, 4:329–338, Oct. 1939.
18. Williams et al. Biochemistry of B Vitamins. Reinhold, 1950, pp. 386–387.
19. The Monthly Newsletter of the A.A.A.N., Jan/Feb/March 1949, pp. 30–33.

Reprint 25B
Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research
Milwaukee 3, Wisconsin

Note: Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research is a nonprofit, public-service institution, chartered to investigate and disseminate nutritional information. The attached publication is not literature or labeling for any product, nor shall it be employed as such by anyone. In accordance with the right of freedom of the press guaranteed to the Foundation by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the attached publication is issued and distributed for informational purpose

Patrick Earvolino

Patrick Earvolino is a Certified Nutritionist and Special Projects Editor for Selene River Press, Inc.

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