Three months of reiki

Adventures in Nutritional TherapyMore and more health writers and bloggers, including the Low-Histamine Chef and Donna Jackson Nakazawa, author of The Last Best Cure, have found stress reduction to play a big part in their health recovery, and since my stress tolerance is pretty much in the toilet and getting worse, I decided to go get me some.

I needed something reeeeallly passive. Meditation, yoga, and nature walks were too much for me. So were about half the service offerings at my local spa. Infrared sauna, various types of massage, and the flotation tank all require removing my contacts without a sink or mirror, or doffing and donning winter clothes in a tiny space, or showering in a tiny shower. I couldn’t deal with any of that.

I decided on reiki, which in theory moves and rebalances energy in the body. Sometimes the reiki practitioner’s hands are touching the (clothed) body, sometimes not. I had two sessions a week for two months, then switched to once a week. It’s a lot of money, and as far as I know no health insurance company covers it. But I do believe it got me through the winter without killing anyone. Here’s what I’ve noticed:

  • First and foremost, it’s basic human touch, which is therapeutic right there. It’s occurred to me that for younger, single women, reiki is a good way to get human touch free of expectations or strings or weirdness. Y’all know what I’m talkin’ about.

  • I always look forward to it, but more so if I have nothing else scheduled for the day.

  • My sleep has not improved, but I do almost fall asleep on the table. I can’t nap, either, so that’s saying something. What happens is a lot like the sensation you get on a plane where you’re about to fall asleep and there’s a WHOOSH-CLICK and your body wakes you up again, presumably to spare you the humiliation of drooling in front of strangers. I find that I nod off only when Reiki Lady is holding her hands above a particular foot-long strip of my torso, which I discover when I open my eyes.

  • I can completely relax my body much more quickly than before. If you’re into meditation you might be familiar with the concept of relaxing to the point where you go numb. Now I can do it in about 10 minutes, where before it would take 40.

  • Reiki Lady occasionally incorporates craniosacral therapy to my head. I can now not only feel how the muscles in my shoulders, neck, and jaw are connected, pulling, and relaxing, I can also feel pressure and tension patterns throughout my skull. Imagine a May pole, where all the streamers are muscles or tension patterns that have gotten wound up and distorted and twisted, due in part to the stupid way I sit at my desk. During reiki sessions, I become more and more aware of the presence, movement, and release of each streamer. This took a lot of sessions, however.

  • As for energy movement … Of course where you’re being touched (through your clothes) you feel tingly. But there is something else, too, that I didn’t start to feel until my fifth ? session, although I don’t think reiki practitioners believe you have to feel it in order for reiki to do whatever reiki does. It was subtle and fleeting, but occurred at each session after that. After about four more sessions, it changed a bit. I don’t really have the vocabulary to describe it. Somewhere in and across my upper body, a pulse or wave changed position, angle, and amplitude. How’s that? It could be that you could get this experience just from meditating regularly. I don’t know.

  • As for my stress response … Last winter I overextended myself in terms of physical, emotional, and cognitive energy, and I was still angry and stressed well into summer. I swore I would not go through that again. I overbooked myself again this winter, mostly with home repair projects that couldn’t be put off, but am rallying much more quickly after each annoying task.

Image: Still from The Phantom of the Opera (1925) by Universal Pictures. Film is in the public domain.

Happy trails, Seth Roberts

Adventures in Nutritional TherapyA very belated farewell to author/blogger/self-experimenter extraordinaire Seth Roberts, who died last April at 61. Seth’s review of my blog in December 2011 increased my traffic by about 19,000 percent and made me think that maybe this blogging thing was actually worthwhile.

At the time he published his review, he hadn’t realized I’d referred to him as “the fella after my own heart” in this post about self-experimenters. One of his readers pointed it out to him. Another of his readers, and a fellow self-experimenting blogger, ambled over here to comment and has since become a good online friend.

Because I was a blogging newbie, and because Seth’s review appeared on New Year’s Eve, and because the majority of the traffic went to my post on how I ended my depression, I assumed the rise in traffic was due to woeful holiday non-revelers gone a-googling. Finally, eight months later, I started rooting around in WordPress’ stats and discovered the truth.

Several months after I ended regular posting, Seth emailed and asked if I’d like to contribute to his blog. I couldn’t manage it at the time, but his reaching out made my day.

He came across as patient, thorough, fair-minded, and as interested in a suburban single mom’s n=1 investigations as in major scientific studies. I was very sad to hear he was gone.

Image: Remix by MRhea. Photo stolen from the interwebs.

Fun with ancient psychoactives: blue lotus and African dream root

Adventures in Nutritional TherapyMy interest in the mind-bending end of self-experimentation started after reading about DMT, the active ingredient of the now-infamous ayahuasca brew*, in The Spirit Molecule. Sadly, DMT turned out to be a no-go. I wouldn’t know where to get it, and I don’t have the attention span to watch a stove for hours while rendering the plant material, or a decent exhaust fan to keep alarming chemical smells from wafting down the halls of my apartment building.

Luckily, there do exist legal, if less exciting, substances to dabble in. My first two choices, blue lotus and African dream root, were purchased from an online botanical supply store considered reputable and reliable by various commenters on erowid and reddit.

Blue lotus
The ancient Egyptians loved this stuff and memorialized it on papyrus and limestone for thousands of years, but it ain’t much to write home about. Either the Egyptians were seriously hard up for thrills, or the blue lotus recipe lost something in translation, because most current accounts describe nothing more than a gentle mellow.

I ordered a 20x dried extract, which turned out to be rich brown silt. I put the recommended dose in two muslin tea bags in a mug and steeped it in very hot water for 40 minutes. The tea bags didn’t contain the powder well, and the concoction tasted and felt like the bottom of a creek. Drinking it all in one go was impossible. It took me 30 minutes to finish it, after which I felt pretty much how you’d expect to feel after drinking a mug of mud.

The next night I doubled the dose and … nothing. It could be that I had too weak an extract or that blue lotus is best used as an adjunct to other psychoactives. Other users soak the dried flowers in wine for several days or weeks and drink that.

African dream root
This one is used as a launching pad for lucid dreaming, in which you remain aware and in control of your dreams. If you’re a sci-fi fan, you might recognize the root as the method by which two TV characters communicated with the dead. Or was it coma patients. Anyway, it made me laugh to discover it was a real thing. Most users say it took them a week of daily use before they saw results, but for me the African dream root worked right off the bat.

To prepare it, I cobbled together techniques from several different users. It didn’t foam the way it’s supposed to, so I just pulverized it and poured boiling water over it in a mug. I forgot to drink it in the morning, when it is less likely to cause insomnia, so I put it in the fridge, and then forgot about it again. When I eventually drank it a few mornings later, I found it very mild-tasting and faintly redolent of lipsticks from the sixties and seventies — whale oil, maybe.

When I dozed off that night, the advertised effects happened. The best way I can describe it: you become aware that you’re somewhere else, like you do when you wake up from minor surgery. One minute you’re looking at the doctor’s face and the next you’re looking at the ceiling of the recovery room. In my case, I found myself in a dark closet. I remained aware of my plans to attempt to lucidly dream and was a wee bit freaked out. A youngish woman in 1950s makeup and hairstyle was in there with me, but when I turned to face her to ask her why in heck we’re in a closet, she disappeared. At that point I woke up. The whole thing might have lasted two minutes, tops, but has the memory of a live experience, rather than a dream.

The rumor is that if you take African dream root every day for three months, its effects become permanent. I take that to mean that you will have lucid dreams unbidden whenever you sleep.
* Not to be confused with the ayahuasca vine, which does not contain DMT, and is legal to own.

Illustration by MRhea.

All the pills I’ve loved before

Adventures in Nutritional TherapyHere’s a roundup of the vitamin and mineral supplements that have had the most dramatic effect on my various health annoyances. After the recent media exposure on the Target/Walgreens/GNC supplements debacle, allow me to reiterate that I operate on the theory that nutritional deficiencies are often behind health issues and that correcting the deficiency can correct the health issue. Unfortunately, with a very few exceptions — ferritin, vitamin D, B12 if you know what you’re doing, a few others — there is no way to test for deficiencies except to try a supplement and see what happens. The medical establishment would love to have you believe otherwise, but alas, it is not true. And we won’t even get into the problem of gauging what a normal test result is, even if the test measures the nutrient level accurately.

See also two earlier posts on deficiency symptoms and reactions, here and here.

Calcium/magnesium: Caused a reduction in anxiety I hadn’t even realized I had until it disappeared. Big improvement in sleep, too. Big improvement in, uh, eliminational motility.

Folic acid/folate/methylfolate: My second experience with nutritional therapy, if you exclude the Flintstones vitamins of my childhood. (The first was during my grandfather’s vitamin C kick in the early 80s.) My mother, who flew every week for work, had discovered it got rid of restless legs within 30 minutes. I used it for the same thing for years, then switched to folate/methylfolate shortly after starting this blog, I think. I’ve found that if 800 mcg of folate doesn’t get rid of it in 20 minutes, it’s probably a B12 issue. If that doesn’t work, it’s a calcium issue. If my entire body is restless — arms, too — I know it’s a B12 thing.

GABA: Turned off overactive mind at night. Also helped tinnitus. After a while, didn’t have to take it anymore.

Hyaluronic acid: Improves maddening eye floaters in a few days. Improves eyesight in general as well. Makes my skin look better and my neck a whole lot easier to swivel around while reversing out of parking spaces.

Lactoferrin: Cleared up my sinuses. I want to say that regular iron supplements did the same but took a lot longer and without as pronounced as effect. In other words, iron deficiency can screw up your sinuses.

Methionine: Normalized horrific periods at doses of about 3,000 mg a day. Also made me look about five years younger, probably by vacuuming out my crappy liver.

Vitamin B6: This was my second success and pretty much got me started on the nutritional therapy road. If you’ve never had carpal tunnel syndrome, you have no clue what anxiety this can cause when your career depends on keyboard use. Later, much higher doses of the P5P formulation of vitamin B6 put a dent in my sugar cravings, improved my sinuses, and ended years of increasingly itchy skin. However, that might be a methylation thing more than a B6-specific thing.

Vitamin C: Big doses — we’re talking 2,000 mg three times a day — lowered my histamine levels and radically improved my mental concentration. After several months I didn’t have to take it anymore. Made eye floaters worse, though.

Vitamin D: Increased my nightly sleep from three hours to 5 hours, if only for five months.

Vitamin K: Like methionine, it normalized the god-awful menorrhagia I’d had for 20 years. Commenters on a paleo blog somewhere — Mark’s Daily Apple? — alerted me to its use for what I guess you’d call TMJ pain. About once a month I get the feeling that my upper and lower palates are collapsing inward. Weird. Vitamin K gets rid of it.

Image: Remix of 1952 Eames House of Cards by MRhea.

Watch out for registered trademarks (®) in supplement ingredients

Adventures in Nutritional TherapyFor the past four years more and more supplements and foods have started suppressing my breathing, which needless to say has caused me some anxiety. It’s not like you can power through a suffocation side effect. I did manage last year to narrow down the culprits when I finally figured out that I was reacting to calcium fillers but that still left B6 and methylfolate.

Several readers had suggested that the MTHFR mutation might be behind health issues I’ve posted about, so if I couldn’t use methylfolate, did that mean that MTHFR was not the issue, or that it could be the issue but my liver was dying, or what?

Eventually someone reminded me of an important self-experimenting rule I have flaunted for years — try several brands of a supplement before giving up on it. The only brand of folate I’d ever used is Solgar, which contains Metafolin, a trademarked ingredient. From the murky depths of my magnesium-stearate-addled mind, a memory struggled to the surface — don’t companies trademark ingredients so they don’t have to list them? I googled Metafolin and sure enough, I found a description of it as being about one-quarter “calcium salt and water.”

I switched to a non-trademarked, no-calcium brand of methylfolate and VOILA, my breathing actually improved. A LOT. (Which led me to believe that the other things I react to are futzing with my folate levels.)

How you go about finding ingredients of registered trademarked substances is beyond me. I lucked out with the Metafolin. I couldn’t find any info on another trademarked ingredient that came to mind, ChromeMate.

Illustration by MRhea.

Tips on self-experimenting with nutritional therapy

  1. Don’t worry about proving anything to anyone. If you’re hoping to demonstrate to someone else the validity of nutritional therapy, or prove that your health complaints were not imagined, don’t bother. Save that time and energy and use it on yourself instead.
  2. Evaluate a trial not just on how you feel, but on what you find yourself doing. More than a few times when I assumed a new supplement regimen was having no effect, I later realized I had run twice the number of errands that week, or checked three-year-old items off my to-do list.
  3. Evaluate a trial based on how you feel when you stop a supplement, too. It’s valuable info. You might consider repeating the stop-and-start a few times.
  4. A bad reaction to a supplement is also good info. If vitamin B6 makes your fingers go numb, your vitamin B12 levels might be too low. If zinc makes your sinuses swell up, your vitamin B6 levels might be too low, etc.
  5. Remember that your deficiency symptoms might change over time. Low zinc levels might give you acne now, but next year it just might make you irritable.
  6. Heed that feeling that if you take one more supplement you’ll explode or go insane. It’s your body/brain/liver’s way of saying “enough.” Take a break. (Remember, you gain info from stopping a supplement, too.)
  7. Do what you can and don’t worry about it too much. This advice from one of my acupuncturists has served me well. If you find you can’t tolerate a lot of supplements, if you’re getting nowhere, or if you’re overwhelmed by all the conflicting info or frustrated by the lack of it, join the club. We’re all flying blind, really.
  8. Don’t feel pressured to self-track. By self-tracking I mean choosing a certain number of parameters — e.g., mood, suicidal to ecstatic, or hair loss, none to fistfuls — and assigning a value to each on every day of your experiment. (As distinguished from just writing down your observations so you don’t forget them.) If you don’t feel like doing it, don’t. Whether or not you can illustrate day-to-day progress with a line chart has no bearing on the validity of your experiment. If anyone gives you crap about this, tell them to go back to their Dungeons & Dragons game.

    Other reasons not to self-track:

    • If you have a longstanding, distressing health issue, it might be a psychological drain to focus on it every day. Writing down “15 minutes” on a sleep chart every morning for weeks will suck you dry.
    • If you’re experimenting to see what effects a supplement has, you won’t have parameters. What you discover might be completely unexpected.
    • In theory, self-tracking (aka quantified self) apps can be hacked and your data used against you by insurance companies and employers.

ANT - Nutritional therapy tips


Image: still of John Barrymore in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” 1920. {{PD-1923}}. Found on the Internet Archive’s Silent Films site.