All my cravings remembered

Updated 2/07/2013

Adventures in Nutritional TherapySince junior high at the latest I have had constant cravings for chocolate. I have tried a million things to make it stop, with little success until recently. Strangely enough, it wasn’t until my 30s that I started having the kind of carb cravings normal people have — potato chips, pizza, etc. I still do not experience those anywhere near as often. I’m now inclined to believe that the cravings are a spectrum, and that the Lays and Fritos urges are at the really bad end, when whatever causes the cravings gets a lot worse.

In the name of science, I performed a self-experiment, repeated twice, wherein I kept eating chocolate until I didn’t want anymore for the rest of the day. That’s how I discovered that my chocolate thing has a 700-calorie-a day limit. I never got around to measuring how many calories I ingest of carbs before the craving disappears.

The following is a list of what helped to alleviate these various urges. If I tried to write down everything that didn’t work, it would take forever, so I’ve just noted the more common suggestions that you’ll find for this problem and which did not work for me.

But first, a very rude warning to anyone out there considering suggesting that I just “eat a nice fresh apple” whenever the need for chocolate hits me: Go #$@! yourself. You have no idea what you’re talking about.

Ditto for anyone who dares to talk to me about willpower.

Where was I…

What has worked for chocolate cravings

1. Tryptophan.
Julia Ross suggests this for cravings in her book The Mood Cure. My first try with this was all wrong — I didn’t take anywhere near enough and took it at the wrong time — at night, when I don’t have cravings. Because of that first failure, I didn’t try it again for years. When I discovered that some people do 10,000 mg of tryptophan a day, I took 2,500 mg one morning and in 30 minutes the insane cravings were gone. Five hours later the effect wore off, so I took 2,500 more. Again, worked in 30 minutes. I don’t seem to need it in the evening.

Two days later it wasn’t working as well. For weeks I experimented with different dosages and combinations of cofactors. Tryptophan needs vitamin B6, vitamin C, folate, and magnesium to be able to do its thang. But the same thing kept happening: a new mix would work for a day or so and then stop. I’m still experimenting. Even with those disappointing setbacks, however, the cravings are still significantly reduced.

Here are the combos I tried. (I already take enough folate so I didn’t bother with that.)

  • Vitamin B6 in the form of P-5-P: Up to 450 mg a day, which I had been doing anyway because it seemed to finally end my horrific vitamin D3-induced headaches. Yes, that’s a lot. Don’t go doing that with regular B6 or you’ll like die or something.
  • D-phenylalanine (a dopamine precursor; and that’s D-, not DL- or L-, but YMMV), on the theory that serotonin (which tryptophan turns into) needs to be kept in balance with dopamine. BTW, it takes 12 or 18 hours before I see an effect with this supplement.
  • Magnesium: 400 mg each dose.
  • Vitamin C: Didn’t help.

2. 5HTP (a form of tryptophan).
I took 50 mg a day and the craving was gone in about 18 hours. It was a novel sensation. Unfortunately, after a week on it, I developed splitting headaches, turned into a zombie, and blew up like a balloon, which defeats the purpose of quitting sugar, if you ask me. (Further experiments confirmed that it was a reaction to the 5HTP and not a die-off reaction.) So that was a no-go. Julia Ross says that a certain percentage of her patients can’t handle 5-HTP and have to use tryptophan instead.

3. Fixing my hypoglycemia.
For me, biotin was the answer. However, other deficiencies can also cause this, so it might not work for you. This just got rid of the absolute worst of the need to eat sugar. It did not eradicate it. Not even close.

What has worked a little bit for chocolate cravings: Vitamin B2 (riboflavin). Vitamin B1 (thiamine). Shooting only methyl bromide-free chocolate (organic chocolate, plus a small number of non-organic brands). It also helps to stick to one kind of chocolate only, which I stockpile at home.

What has worked for carb cravings

1. Calcium.

About a year after I went gluten-free, I started inhaling potato chips constantly. It was bizarre. I mean, an entire large bag of chips at work every day. Finally I read somewhere that calcium deficiency can cause cravings for salty foods. I started taking maybe 500 mg a day — don’t quote me, but I know it wasn’t an insane amount — and after three weeks, voila! Back to my normal constant-but-at-least-it’s-only-chocolate cravings.

2. Bright light therapy.
The first winter after I moved back to the Midwest from Southern California, I stopped sleeping completely, developed severe brain fog, and started eating everything in sight. I ate things I don’t even like — baked goods, cookies, bread, rolls. Luckily I read about bright light therapy and got myself a light box, one of those 10,000 lux fluorescent ones. It took about a week to see a difference, but it worked and I’ve been using a light box ever since, although not that same design. I even took it to Paris, where it was betrayed and killed by a cheap voltage adapter.

What has worked a little bit for carb cravings: Selenium.

Things that make both types of cravings worse: Iron. Vitamin D (but not sun). Iodine (Iodoral), probably because I wasn’t taking enough selenium with it (they work together).

Things that did not work: Chromium. Magnesium. Ashwaganda. Adrenal support treatment/supplements. Acupuncture. Hypnosis. Allerase enzymes. Increasing protein intake. Eating 700 more calories of normal food a day, on the theory that I was undereating. And a gazillion other things. Copper supplements, on the theory that I needed the copper in chocolate (although that experiment did reveal that I was copper toxic). The anti-fungal herbs oregano oil, grapefruit seed extract, garlic, caprylic acid, and maybe two others, on the theory that candida was causing the cravings.

Abandoned theories

I long ago dismissed the idea that there is a psychological aspect to it — that’s it’s a reward mechanism for a sense of deprivation, for example. I am rarely interested in any other type of food, and I am not in love with the taste of the chocolate I do eat. It is true that anyone who got between me and a pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream, which I can’t find in my area, would meet an ugly end, but I doubt I could finish the pint, and then I wouldn’t want to eat it again for another month. For the most part, the craving involves a very particular combo of fat, sugar, and cacao.

Increased stress doesn’t seem to signficantly affect the chocolate jonesing, either.

On the theory that my chocolate habit was in fact an addiction, on two occasions I used two weeks of vacation to go cold turkey. I discovered that as long as I didn’t do anything requiring brain power or physical energy — as long as I sat quietly and watched DVDs or did light errands — I would make it through the sugar detox (two nights of shakes and sweating), the rest of the two weeks, and one week after I returned to work. Then I just couldn’t function without it. Once I had to start writing coherently, planning, organizing, balancing my checkbook, etc., I had to have it.

On that evidence, I concluded it was a brain energy thing, that my brain can’t produce enough glucose or use it correctly. That’s what led me eventually to try vitamin B1 (thiamine) and vitamin B2 (riboflavin), both involved in glucose metabolism. They did seem to help a bit, as mentioned above, but nothing miraculous.

For a while I wondered if insufficient light exposure all year, not just during the winter, was the culprit. I experimented with different exposure times with light boxes. One is in theory an improvement over the fluorescent and blue light models I’ve tried, and the other works overhead rather than from below. But no luck.

After reading a Mark’s Daily Apple post about training your body to burn fat instead of glucose, I realized how little fat I get and wondered if that was the cause.. Growing up I had a very low-fat diet and on top of that, being an undiagnosed celiac I could barely process what I did get. I experimented with recipes from the cookbook Practical Paleo, which is big on serving fat with every dish, a lot of it in the form of coconut oil. It is the best cookbook I’ve ever found in terms of accommodating all my intolerances — eggs and goitrogens are the hardest to avoid. But no joy.

After seeing several articles on the gut flora-obesity-cravings connection, I tried a whole lotta probiotics, but after a month didn’t see a change, although that might not be anywhere near enough time. I am continuing that experiment anyway, for other reasons. Here’s a PaleoHacks questions forum on the topic.

11 thoughts on “All my cravings remembered

  1. Stephanie

    Hey! I got my genetic panel done from 23&me and then put the data set through Nutrahacker.com. It was VERY helpful! I really feel for you, all the things you have tried, I too have thousands of days and dollars invested in the “discarded doctors and vitamins box!”I have found the Nutrahacker info to fill in the missing biochemical links so instead of guessing what I need and need to avoid, I am working on when, how much, and in what order! WAY BETTER! I have also found the thyroid connection to be a helpful read: stop the thyroid madness. Sincerely hope this helps you! It’s not easy to have to make your own way, just know THERE IS A REASON and there has to be a solution! Never give up! XO

    Reply
  2. Kelly

    HI Marjorie.

    I’ve been up and down the genetics/methylation/mthfr route and have found there is so much conflicting info out there, so having said that, it’s my understanding that ‘compound heterozygous’ isn’t nearly as bad as being homozygous. And since all of it is related to genetic ‘expression’ and not — oh, I have these genetic defects so my health is ruined for life’, that sometimes “just” lifestyle changes will be enough.

    RE: SLEEP: One thing I discovered however after about 2 years of experimentation with the methylation supplements is that FOLINIC acid (not folic) really, really helps with sleep. I use Folacal, from Thorne, and take one with dinner, and then empty 1/2 to 1 entire capsule under my tongue about 45 minutes before bed — and I’m sleeping heavier and actually not as sensitive to noise as I used to be either. Methylfolate helps somewhat, but can be stimulating as well, which is definitely not the case with folinic acid.

    On a side note, I thought that iodine/selenium helped your high histamine issues?

    Reply
    1. Marjorie Post author

      Thanks for the info on folinic acid and MTHFR. I read the iherb reviews and am considering trying it. (It looks like Thorne is phasing out that product, though.) I am a bit worried about the calcium in it, as I finally figured out that I can’t tolerate the Solgar Metafolin because of the calcium, not because of the methylfolate. Once I started avoiding calcium fillers and ingredients, things got better. My sleep improved somewhat with the methylfolate (Thorne’s), but as soon as I take P5P or methyl B12 or dibencozide, it’s back to 2 hours of sleep a night. Which is annoying because like Commenter Ing, they help with brain function/mood. I have noticed that I can’t take the methylfolate after 6 pm, or I can’t sleep. I also have to take 100 mg of niacin a day or I get headaches every few days.

      Now that I’m several months into the experiment, I see what you mean about not letting the genetic results get me down. As you say, it’s a lot easier to not panic. My thinking now is that all this gluten intolerance/histamine intolerance/methylation/liver/etc wackiness is caused by something else. Apparently all of those things are common in mold-poisoned patients, for example.

      Re: histamine: The iodine got my entire body load down so that I could feel what it’s like to be almost normal and not spacy all the time. However, there is still room for improvement, and my experiments with some of The Low-Histamine Chef’s suggestions have been very helpful. Her anti-histamine green juice recipe cleared up my sinuses completely (I guess — I don’t know what normal is, really) for the first time ever and improved my concentration so that I can read for long periods again, but only if I avoid most high-histamine foods. My cravings remain unaffected.

      The methylfolate helped the cravings somewhat, and I think molybdenum at 2000 mcg has also. Either by helping methylation by processing sulphur, or by reducing the aldehydes? acetylaldehydes? can’t remember… brought on by candida.

      Thanks again for the comment. I’ve found that the best info comes from discussion forums and other anecdotal sources of people going through all this. I don’t know where I’d be without it.

  3. ing

    I love your site and wish you were still posting your experiments because I have so many similar reactions to supplements and same cravings and sleep issues.
    Did you ever solve your chocolate craving?
    I totaled my chocoalte cravings to 500-800 calories per day- I hate it and its expensive. Two things have helped ..
    1.tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar before bed (oddly only Braggs brand works for me) – after taking the ACV the night beforf in the morning when I try to eat chocolate it just doesnt taste good, doesnt have any appeal or good feelings attached to consuming it. I can just do without and forget about it. But there is a catch..if I do continue to eat the chocolate day after day (even though I have no craving) the apple cider vinegar eventually doesnt work any more.
    2. methylfolate. Not sure it reduces the craving directly but it gets me into a deep sleep that restores my brain function so that I am not ‘needing’ the chocolate to think straight.

    Reply
    1. Marjorie Post author

      Thank you! I have about 6 posts half-written but I just can’t get organized/motivated enough to finish them.

      Never solved the chocolate cravings entirely. A lot of B6/P5P seems to help –about 90 mg. I also tried Mg again, in much larger doses than I’d tried in the past, after I read in The Magnesium Miracle that it takes a lot more Mg to replete a severe deficiency than experts think. I did that a month and didn’t notice a difference. Might not have tried it long enough, but the side effects got to me……..I will try your ACV-at-night approach. I just ended my second attempt at the alkaline diet — here’s the post about the first one — but I was using a lot more than that, and never at night, and the side effects were too much. It’s so gross waking up and wanting to eat chocolate…….Methylfolate never helped my cravings but I’m intrigued that you see a connection between deep sleep and (lack of cravings). I definitely do not have deep sleep…….. Thank you for the info.

    2. ing

      Since activated b6 seems to help you-have you been tested for MTHFR mutation? (some 40% of population have the mutation)? (Im sure you’ve already considered methylation issues; just checking).

      I’ve been reseaching MTHFR for about a month non stop and experiementing with the supplements recommended to get the methylation system back up and running.

      I started with methylfolate and the first day my mood and sleep were mildly improved. Next day I knew I was on to something.

      I tried three different types of methylfolate before finding one that worked for me and for the first time in 12 years I finally feel like Im getting restorative sleep. (trying not to get to excited- after taking methyl folate I can seriously say I have not slept in 12 years until now)

      I started out with 400 mcgs and now am up to 3grams. Supposed to add in methylB12 and activated B6 next but every time I try them I dream so much and so vividly it keeps me from the deep restoratve sleep.

      But methyl-b12 taken the same day as methylfolate makes my mood PERFECT- Im motivated, forward thinking, happy, carefree, easy going..its really amazing, considering how Ive been living for so long.
      Im going to continue to increase my folate and try the methyl b12 and b6 every so often.

      Other things that have been so much better and improving with methylfolate -skin, dandruff, memory, hypoglycemia, peeling lips, calcium and magneisum retention (only need half as much as I normally do), perfect stools (used to have symptoms of IBS for 12yrs too)

      I plan to get tested for MTHFR soon, I know based on my reactions to the supplements that I have issues with methylation for sure and past labs have revealed some tell tale signs…like my serum levels of b12, folate and B6 have all been over the limit high even though I never took/take b-vitamins ( supplements with b-vits have always cause my insomnia to be unbearable so I avoided them like the plague).

      High labs-when you have problems with methylation folate, b12, b6 vitamins build up in the blood due to lack of the enzyme to process them. Also my alkaline phophatase level was always low too (sign of low folate).

      Im curious how much methylfolate you took and what brand? Did you avoid supplements with folic acid while you were taking it?

      Looking forward to your new posts and to hear about what you’ve been experiementing with!!

    3. Marjorie Post author

      I understand completely the fear of the jinx re: sleep. :)

      I finally actually googled my MTHFR test results I got last month, instead of relying on the Clinic’s interpretation. It turns out that “compound heterozygous” is bad, according to mthfr.net. It looks like a whole ‘nother round of research is needed, but I just don’t have the energy. I’m at 2 hrs sleep/night now, for 6 years.

      I’ve only used Solgar’s Metafolin, in a big range of doses. It improved mental clarity, fingernails, and restless legs. (I did avoid folic acid at the same time.) I don’t think I ever used it at the same time as P5P, which gave me the results that methylfolate has done for you. P5P also dragged my sleep back from 0 hours a night to 2 hours a few years ago. Maybe the big doses of folate just wiped out the B6, which caused the high-histamine/zombieness. Unfortunately, methyfolate and P5P suppress my breathing now….that histamine connection you mentioned elsewhere maybe.

      The only B12 methyl I can use now is Natural Factors, which doesn’t have any flavoring. I also have dibencoizoid B12 or whatever it’s called around here somewhere. A B12 experimenter I ran across says the different B12s do different things, but I haven’t gotten around to trying it yet. (That would be “Freddd,” in case you’ve encountered him in the discussion forums.)

      My questions for you are:
      1. It sounds like you found that some folate brands don’t actually work at all for you?
      2. Can you recommend a site(s) with MTHFR protocol info?

    4. ing

      Wow your symptoms and sleep issues sound so similar to my own. Im so sorry you are in a bad place with energy right now, I’ve been there and know what that is like.

      Can I get your email (or write me at mine) Maybe it would help if I can share more details of my experiences/experiments. Ive tried all the supplements you have over the past 12 years (and so many more-many times over) and just seemed to go round and round; the methylfolate seems to be key for me in explaining all of my strange ups and downs with supplements and various tyeps of diet.

      Bless You!!

    5. Marjorie Post author

      Forgot to say that I’m also trying to figure out if histamine intolerance has something to do with the craving. So far no luck.

    6. ing

      Im not up on histamine intolerance (yet) but I have been running into that term a lot when I read about it happening to people who start taking high dose supplements for MTHFR. (folate, b12, b6).

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