Category Archives: nutritional therapy

Scientific American article series on self-experimenters

While investigating insomnia I came across this 2008 series of Scientific American articles on eight people who’ve been experimenting on themselves to investigate a variety of hypotheses. The subjects include a cybernetics professor who’s wired his nervous system to a computer, the playwright who made the movie “Super Size Me,” and a cardiologist who tried an obscure drug to stop his alcohol binging.

The fella after my own heart is Seth Roberts, who after ten years of experimenting, finally resolved his insomnia by moving breakfast back a few hours. He also curbed his overeating by ingesting several tablespoons of vegetable oil a day and as a result lost a significant amount of weight. Then he wrote a diet book about it and gained a significant amount of attention.

One expert’s response to it:

“Experimenters who test ideas on themselves may be biased to produce the result they expect to see,” says David Katz, an internist and associate professor adjunct at Yale School of Public Health.

…which jibes with my experience with the so-called expert (SCE) in Chronic Fatigue at the Cleveland Clinic. I had gone to check once and for all that I do not qualify for the diagnosis (I don’t, thank God) and when I mentioned that I had occasionally gotten tantalizing increases in energy from large doses of zinc, after years and years of trying everything, the SCE said it was in my mind: I wanted it to work and it did. When I pointed out that 80% of the things I tried didn’t work, he changed the subject. Then he offered me an antidepressant.

Roberts, a professor at UC Berkeley, has his own website where he’s posted the reports he wrote on his own experiments, should you happen to need a good example of scientific method usage.

Remembering our vitamin-popping progenitor

by M.E.

Editor’s note: I am actually the third generation of my family to believe that nutritional deficiencies play a major role in health problems and that anyone with knowledge of the scientific method can treat him/herself. Here our guest writer and 2nd-gen orthomolecular self-experimenter M.E. — aka Mom — presents a brief bio of my grandfather.

Back in 1909, a very excited five-year old boy was given a ride in the first automobile in his small Midwestern town. Little Jimmy grew up to be an engineer and remembered this “horseless carriage” in detail for the rest of his long life. He also remembered that the car’s owner, the town doctor, told him that day about a new discovery that would bring many benefits to mankind, including cures for disease. The discovery came to be called “vitamins.”

Starting in the late 1940s a series of books on nutrition by Adelle Davis, who unusually for a woman in her day had an MS in chemistry, were extremely popular with the public, while being severely criticized by many of her fellow nutritionists. Jimmy, by this time called Jim, remembered what “Doc” had said about vitamins and began reading Davis’ books. Although a number of her ideas did prove harmful in practice, many others were well ahead of their time, including her warnings about the dangers of vitamin deficiencies, hydrogenated fat, saturated fat, and excess sugar consumption, and about the need for exercise.

Later, retired and suffering from ill health, Jim continued his readings in nutrition and health and discovered the work of Linus Pauling, whose work in chemistry had earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954. He also won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1963, for his indefatigable efforts which helped bring about the Partial Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty that year. He is the only person to have won two undivided Nobel Prizes.

One of Pauling’s areas of interest was the role of molecules in the human body. His research included numerous breakthroughs in what he came to call “orthomolecular” medicine. In 1970 Pauling published Vitamin C and the Common Cold, a bestseller which (shades of Adelle Davis) attracted heavy criticism from the medical field. Nobel prizes aside, Pauling soon became best known for promoting the use of massive doses of vitamin C to cure many ailments. So although he was and is widely recognized as one of the greatest scientists of the 20th Century, and by some as the greatest chemist in history, in the 1970s Dr. Pauling had many detractors who dismissed him as a quack. And some still do.

But Jim found Dr. Pauling’s research compelling and often quoted Pauling’s concept that humans are not biologically identical. In addition to lots of vitamin C, by the mid-1970s Jim’s daily regimen included numerous different supplements, in addition to a daily exercise regimen and what even today would be considered an extremely healthy diet. More important, he had returned to excellent health.

He started traveling throughout the Southwest to meet with physicians who were also interested in alternative approaches. (Some of these turned out to be, in his words, “real quacks.”) He also toured the facilities of the manufacturers and distributors of supplements he was considering (and noted sub-standard manufacturing and/or handling practices in at least one). At some point in the 1980s he began buying all his supplements in powder form to avoid ingesting too much filler material.

In his research he had as an accomplice his much-younger primary care physician, who often tracked down reports and studies at his request. The doctor probably did not agree with all the information he forwarded to Jim, but seemed to enjoy his unconventional role. And he could not argue with the effects on Jim’s health.

In their 80s, Jim and his friends formed an octogenarian golf league. At 92 he happily played all nine holes in their annual spring tournament. Then, six weeks later, a recently-detected defective heart valve ended his vibrant life.

In his latter decades, Jim frequently remarked that his regimen, most notably all the supplements, had added at least 25 years of good health to his life.

Ignoring naysayers can pay off!

Another unexpected side effect of repletion: expanded horizons

I wrote earlier of some unexpected side effects of correcting a deficiency, and here’s a new one: you learn a lot about Japanese culture. After I started researching iodine deficiency and decided to experiment with that, I was visited with cravings for sushi and Japanese movies.

What with their seafood-laden diet, the Japanese ingest about 50 times more iodine than we do every day. They also have a surprisingly low incidence of a few ailments associated with modern lifestyles — breast cancer, for one — which got Western researchers thinking about what big doses of it might do.

As to why the sushi craving appeared…maybe my body, after years of deprivation, had forgotten it ever needed iodine, and when reminded of it with a flood of potassium iodide went gung-ho on the bio-signals. Or maybe iodine needs some other nutrient to work ideally and that something is in sushi. I do not know.

FYI, a sushi addiction isn’t easy when 1) you are trying to be fiscally responsible and 2) you’re gluten-free. All I can find to eat at my local supermarket-sushi purveyor is the salmon-and-avocado roll. Raw tuna is too sweet to my taste, and anything with “crab” is actually cod or some other white fish mixed with wheat paste.

I also discovered that something in raw fish blocks the absorption of thiamin (vitamin B1). Silk worms do, too, so watch out for that.

As for the filmic experience, I had to order 16 Japanese-language movies from Netflix before I got that out of my system. I focused on contemporary movies made in the 1930s to the 1960s, back when the differences in our cultures were more pronounced.

Here’s what I learned from this immersion:

– traditional Japanese houses are miserable in the winter
– it’s not fun to be a prostitute in Japan
– it wasn’t fun to be a woman in medieval Japan
– in fact being a woman in Japan before the 1960s kinda sucked in general
– kimonos convey much about the wearer’s socioeconomic status and income. Made me understand more why we’ve sacrificed beauty in our clothes for the jeans-and-a-tee uniform.
– the Japanese spent a lot of time on food preparation, which was folded into their everyday customs. Not like here, except maybe on July 4 when we worship the barbecue.
– actors in Akira Kurosawa movies were not taught how to steer a horse in a humane fashion
– Mr. Kurosawa was insane with the hundreds-of-extras crowd shots
– the knee and ankle joints of the native Japanese are made out of the same stuff Gumby is made of. Otherwise they’d never be able to sit on the floor like that for a whole meal, never mind their entire lives.

Here’s what I watched:

Onibaba, 1964
An Autumn Afternoon, 1962 (my favorite)
A Story of Floating Weeds, 1934
Zero Focus, 1941
Osaka Elegy, 1936
Ikiru, 1952
Sisters of the Gion, 1936
Women of the Night, 1948
Kagemusha, 1980
The Hidden Fortress, 1958
Tokyo Story, 1953
Seven Samurai, 1954
Ugetsu, 1953
Sansho the Bailiff, 1954
Afraid to Die, 1960
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, 1960
Street of Shame, 1956
Red Angel, 1966
The Bad Sleep Well, 1960

A list of supplements that don’t work very well in the versions sold in the US

This past year I’ve learned that some of the nutrient supplements on the shelves in the US don’t work very well, either because a significant part of the population can’t process them, or because the version used is poorly absorbed by the body, or because they are so cheaply formulated that the filler would make you sick before you could get enough of the active ingredient to resolve your deficiency.

Here’s everything I know so far. Needless to say, the better versions are more expensive and harder to find.

Folic acid: Processing this synthetic vitamin into its active form requires methyl groups and those of us who are methyl-challenged (low methylators) need to use the methylfolate version. Some sources say that the folic acid formulation is pointlessly inefficient for anyone. Using methylfolate instead certainly can’t hurt.

Calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate requires stomach acid to work, and is hard on the stomach for some people. Calcium citrate absorption doesn’t require stomach acid. (This issue isn’t as big a concern as the others listed here.)

Magnesium oxide: This is not as bioavailable as other options, such as magnesium citrate. According to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, magnesium lactate and magnesium chloride are even better options, but they are harder to find in pill form. You can also absorb magnesium through the skin in the form of epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) and magnesium chloride, which can be found in a spray oil.

Vitamin B1 – thiamine hydrochloride. This is poorly absorbed by the body. If you are only mildly deficient, it might be all you need, but I needed a fairly large dose and couldn’t stomach it at all. When I switched to the more efficient benfotiamine, I had no trouble and noticed results much faster. Another version is thiamine tetrahydrofurfuryl disulfide (TTFD), which is what I use.

Vitamin B2 – riboflavin. This is also poorly absorbed. Riboflavin phosphate AKA riboflavin-5′-phosphate AKA flavin mononucleotide (FMN) is a better formulation.

Vitamin B6 – pyridoxine. Some people have trouble converting pyridoxine to its active form, pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P). You can buy the active version in supplement form, usually referred to as P5P. Some experts say you just have to use a part of your dose in that form; the rest can be pyridoxine.

Vitamin B12 – cobalamin or cyanocobalamin or hydroxocobalamin (used in injections).
Like folic acid, it requires a methyl group to convert to its active form. I’ve followed a discussion group on B12 whose members are adamant that these types are pathetically inefficient and that methylcobalamin should be used. (There is also adenosylcobalamin AKA dibencozide AKA coenzyme B12, but I was never clear what the difference is.) If you are having injections, you might have to search a bit to find a compounding pharmacy that can prepare the methylcobalamin shots, which is less stable than the other versions and has to be carefully shipped and stored.

The reason B12 tablets come in doses with such large numbers — 1,000 mcg., 5,000 mcg. — is because the body can only absorb about 1% of it at a time.

Vitamin D2 – ergocalciferol. Depending on what you read, vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is either three or five times more bioavailable than vitamin D2.

Vitamin K1 – phylloquinone. Vitamin K2 (menaquinone) is the preferred version, but I don’t know a lot about it. Vitamin K3 (menadione) has been banned so you shouldn’t have to worry about that one.

Bad reaction to vitamin D supplements: why?

Updated 1/1/13. Again.

I’ve tried vitamin D3 three times over the past ten years and each time have been stymied by side effects: first, splitting headaches and later, the addition of a white-hot-iron-vise-crushing-my-lungs sensation. It’s definitely not D toxicity/overdose — there’s no way in Hades I could’ve gotten my D levels up too far that fast.

The fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) all compete with each other to some degree, so my first experiment was to try each of them, thinking I was inducing a deficiency. For a while, vitamin E stopped the headaches, but after a few weeks didn’t help. When I finally realized that vitamin K comes in supplement form — did I mention the brain fog? — a few months before I originally wrote this post, I discovered that it helped the breathing problem a lot, at about 2,000 mcg.

FYI, low levels of the various fat-soluble vitamins seem to manifest as follows:
— A: inner-ear pain, dry eyes
— D: back pain, abdominal pain, insomnia
— E: headaches not sure anymore
— K: killer menorrhagia, difficulty concentrating, difficulty breathing

Calcium, magnesium, and zinc also work with vitamin D3 and thus might end up being depleted with big doses of D. I definitely need to take them when I take D3 for more than a week, but they don’t address the headaches/breathing issue.

Two months after that, I discovered that thiamine (vitamin B1) in the form of TTFD got rid of most of the headaches and the rest of the breathing problems. However, when I take enough D3 to correct deficiency symptoms (fatigue and abdominal pain), the amount of thiamine needed to stop the headaches completely stops me sleeping, as does the vitamin K. Eventually the thiamine stopped working headaches-wise anyway, where before it would halt them within 20 minutes.

After reading this article about copper poisoning, I learned that vitamin D in big doses — or anything that needs copper to work — can induce a copper dump if you happen to be copper toxic. (I think I understood that correctly.) So I started thinking in terms of copper detox. After following what detox guidelines I could for a few weeks, I started vitamin D again in January 2013. I’ll keep ya posted.

Back to the ’70s for asthma treatment

About six years ago I realized I was getting very tired every time I visited a home with a resident cat. It was annoying but easy enough to avoid. Then, after a round of weekly 50,000 IU vitamin D doses, I got a day-long burning-lung, wheezing, iron-vise-on-the-ribs reaction that made me wonder if my appointment with my maker had been moved up.

Off I was sent to yet another fancy-ass specialist for blood tests and breathing into a bellows thing and x-rays, which had to be taken twice because I apparently have “really long lungs” that did not fit on the x-ray plate. The diagnosis was a one-off asthmatic allergic reaction.

Thinking the big vitamin D dose was just too big, I tried smaller doses of 1,000 IU, but the effects were similar. I then considered the possibility that it had overwhelmed my levels of the competing fat-soluble vitamins A and E. Vitamin A did help slightly, but not enough.

It finally occurred to me that I had forgotten about vitamin K, another fat-soluble vitamin. According to PubMed, a 1970s Japanese study treating asthma with vitamin K was quite successful.

I took 1,000 IU of vitamin K2 (menaquinone 7) for two weeks before my next attempt at vitamin D again, this time working up to 6,000 IU. Voila! Almost no reaction, and iron got rid of that. Eventually I could do without the iron entirely. I guess that since both vitamin K and iron are involved in oxygen transport, they can back each other up to a point. It just took a while for the vitamin K to build up to needed levels.

I have yet to test this on feline exposure. Since that seems to be an immune system issue, I’m guessing that something else is involved.