Category Archives: self-experiment

Two months of experiments with melatonin supplements

In another attempt to kill my insomnia I revisited melatonin supplements a few months ago. I had tried them 15 years ago, once, when I was sleeping three hours a night, whereupon I slept for 24 hours. That kept me off the stuff until a few years ago, when I tried them again, using the dosages listed on the labels — 1.5 mg, 3 mg, etc. I could feel it working and I got sleepier and sleepier and then…nothing.

I get the same effect when I use amber light bulbs and amber glasses, which prevent blue light from turning off your melatonin production at night. Especially if I’m reading, I’ll get sleepy and doze-y for about 30 minutes and…nothing happens and I’m wide awake again. Clearly a crucial step is missing somewhere.

When I discovered that some people out there use up to 40 mg (milligrams) with apparently no ill effects, I tried that. (Since melatonin is a hormone, and a prescription-only substance in some countries, there is some worry about big doses.) I spent a couple of weeks building up to 50 mg a night. It had even less effect than the smaller doses. I didn’t even get sleepy. In fact it was kind of weird how little an effect there was. I did notice a few things:

  • hiccups 4 times in 3 days
  • period extended by two weeks
  • two episodes of dreaming while awake

That last effect was entertaining. Early in the morning, I was half awake and dreaming a series of images displaying in my head like a slide show — click, click, click, very fast: photo-realistic images of things like a space station in a nebula, or people I’d never seen before on a picnic, or machines that don’t exist. In other words, definitely not memories. I forced myself to wake up and discovered that by concentrating I could get the images to start again. Woo hoo! The last one stood out, clear as day — a sunset shot of a grand building, like a Carnegie library, with a row of Model Ts or similar old cars lined up on the street outside, which was built on the top of a small dam or causeway.

This is a lovely example of the difference between physiological doses (the dose the body uses in normal operations) and pharmacological doses (the dose that creates a certain effect, usually much larger) of a substance. If you want to read accounts of people who’ve used melatonin for mind-altering as well as traditional applications, visit the Experience Vault at Erowid.org.

Later I remembered a New Scientist? Discover? article on researchers who pointed out that melatonin is only needed in wee little doses, 300 mcg or so, and that using more might be counterproductive. (Sorry, can’t find it, but I swear I tweeted about it.) So I dug out my melatonin bottle and bit off what I hoped was a third, which would be maybe 500 mcg. It seemed to give me a few hours more sleep that night, but I couldn’t repeat the results.

I continued experimenting with difference doses of timed-release melatonin (TRM), and after several months I’ve noticed a few things. Please note that when I say “worked” here, I mean it gave me a few more hours of sleep.

  • More than 1.5 mg of TRM never worked. I only tried two different doses of non-timed release melatonin, with no effect.
  • At first, in late October and early November, 1.5 mg TRM — and no other dose — gave me four more hours of sleep, but ONLY when I also spent 1.5 hours in daylight before 1:30 pm AND 1.5 hours in front of a light therapy lamp. If I skipped any of those steps, I would not get the effect.
  • Eventually that stopped working. I’m assuming it’s because morning daylight got less and less intense, but I’m not sure.
  • Using doses larger than 1.5 mgs TRM made me feel anxious, panicky and depressed for an hour or so at night. Not fun. This matched personal accounts I’ve found of other experimenters who considered it a sign that the dose they had used was too high.
  • If I tried taking more melatonin again after I woke up after several hours, timed release or otherwise, it wouldn’t do anything.
  • At 7 am, after I used a bright light device for an hour, if I sat in the dark after the device turned off, I would get very sleepy and fall asleep for about 20 minutes (unusual for me). Turning on all the lights in the apartment stopped the effect.
  • My period stopped for 45 days after I started experimenting with the lower dose melatonin. This has only happened once in my life. I was very happy.
  • Doses of 2-7 mg seemed to give me headaches and mild cystic acne after a while. It is possible that the 1.5 mg doses did this, too, after several weeks of use.

I’m concluding from this that my insomnia problem is related to light exposure, but not to melatonin production. Light affects melatonin and the circadian rhythm, and melatonin is part of the circadian rhythm, but the influence of light on the circadian rhythm is NOT entirely due to its effect on melatonin, if you follow me. So I’m going to try to get more light into my day.

No allergic reaction to duck eggs

duck eggsI developed an allergy to chicken eggs after I went gluten-free, which seems to be pretty common judging from comments I’ve read in various discussion forums. For several years the reaction just involved a day of spaciness and fatigue, but now my breathing is noticeably affected.

When I read that some chicken-egg-allergic people do not react to duck eggs, I found a local purveyor at our city’s venerable public market, but unfortunately her ducks were stressed by Superstorm Sandy and not performing.

I ordered 18 online. They arrived wrapped in lots and lots of enviro-unfriendly padding, but what can you do. I ate 2 or 3, cooked in a pan “over medium” — I had to look that up — for a few days until I remembered how revolting the lingering smell of cooked eggs is in a small apartment. I took a few days off, then started up again with hard-boiled eggs until I was done with the batch.

So far, no reaction at all. Hopefully it stays this way, because I could use this extra protein source and eggs are so easy, except for the shipping-it-in-from-Texas bit. And the cost — $42.00 for 18, including shipping.

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.

This is your nail bed on cholecalciferol: my fingernails and vitamin D3

Further to my earlier post on supplements that helped to grow my fingernails, I can report that 15,000 IU of vitamin D3 a day for two weeks did amazing things. It basically did the same thing that 8 mg of methylfolate did, although the folate seemed to work faster.

The weird thing is, the shape actually changed: the V-shape in the cuticle across the bottom straightened out to more of a U and the nail narrowed — it no longer separated from the nail bed (and thus widened) as far down as it had before. The cuticle also retreated a bit and lengthened/deepened the nail. This is probably something only I would notice, and none of this applies to my index fingers, which remained as pathetic as ever.

I had to stop the vitamin D3 a week or two after this when the splitting headaches returned once again. The progress lasted for about three weeks, and then the nails got weak again, although the squared-off shape of the cuticle has been maintained. I am lazy about taking calcium with the D3, which probably didn’t help much — the nails started splitting under the quick, which I have found means my calcium levels are too low.

I should note that my vitamin D3 has always tested pretty low — at best 20 ng/ml, when according to some experts, including this neurologist who has found it works wonders for her sleep-disordered patients, it should be 60–80 ng/ml.

The Vitamin D Council website has a guide to help you figure out how much vitamin D you can produce outside based on your skin color and latitude. I have always assumed that during my sun-worshipping teenaged summers I was getting plenty, but apparently I was wrong. My skin color is a bit more than a III, but not a IV (Mediterranean), and I was only one degree further south than Boston. Now I wonder if I was even getting 5,000 IU a day from June to August.

Throughout the whole procedure I was also using a nail strengthener from the drug store, which I’ve used off and on for years, and which also helps. It’s the one that comes in strengths 1, 2, 2.5, and 3. Ends in -ques, begins with Nailti-. I’ve tried most of the others and they don’t work for me. Allow me to bitch briefly about this product. It is very expensive and gets gooey before you’re even 4/5 through the bottle, which is pointless to complain about anyway because two days after it gets gooey, the polish is too far below the too-short brush to reach. One-fifth of the bottle is unusable. If you do apply the polish when it has thickened and then make the mistake of painting a nail color over it, the resulting spongy surface looks like you’re trying to cover up a fungus. But still, I buy it.

Two months using an Earthing sheet

Updated 09/04/12: Martin Zucker, a co-author of the book mentioned here, has offered a suggestion for improving my experience with the Earthing appliances. See comments.

For about two months I’ve been using an Earthing sheet, which was invented by Clinton Ober to lower the electrical current on the body to what it would be if you were standing barefoot on the ground. Ober’s theory is that since we evolved that way, our bodies are optimized at that current, and messing with it can cause health problems. What with all the power lines, cell phone towers, wi-fi, appliances and electronics we use now, we’re exposed to much more current than we were 40 years ago.

Using a splitter and a voltmeter from the hardware store you can compare your body’s voltage with and without contact on the Earthing sheet, which is a cotton sheet interlaced with metal wires that plugs into the grounded port of an outlet, or, ideally, to a rod you stick outside in the dirt. Blogger Amanda has a video demonstrating this. Her body voltage is 17 times lower when in contact with the sheet.

After perusing various discussion forums, I found about five people who had used it for insomnia with some success. I bought a sheet and, for day use, an arm band. The order came with two copies of Ober’s book, which I hadn’t read before. In my humble opinion, his PR team shot themselves in the foot (feet?) by giving it the title Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever?, but it’s actually well written, articulate, and well edited.

My experience over the first five nights was pretty common similar to what several of those insomniac experimenters noted — weird tingling sensations in my limbs that felt like arterial spasms, increased insomnia, and a really weird three-minute anxiety attack that might have been more of a semi-lucid nightmare. There was also the dream in which Ian Anthony Dale, wearing old-fashioned sleeve protectors and sitting at an antique wooden desk, told me to go to Utah.

As for the arm band, I discovered that if I used it more than two hours during the day I became very irritable and annoyed, so I gave that up completely.

Except for all that, after five days I experienced…nothing.

However, I continue to use it, mostly out of curiosity and because I like the idea. In a few weeks I shall proceed to part 2 of the experiment, when I will stop using the sheet and see what happens.

For a much cheaper version of the experiment, you can sit or stand with your bare feet on the ground — dirt, grass, sand, or unsealed cement. Much of my so-called yard actually sits on a huge plastic liner, which negates the effect. It seems to be referred to as “barefooting,” which for me brings to mind a moronic 60s song. From my brief review of YouTube videos on the subject, it looks like most people try it for at least 30 minutes a day for several weeks.

You can also find do-it-yourself instructions for making Earthing, aka “grounding,” sheets on the internet. Ober made his Earthing prototypes by crisscrossing conducting tape over wool blankets. A particular type of conducting tape is required, though, so watch out for that detail.

Month 2 of Operation Electrosmog Reduction

Adventures in Nutritional TherapyMy annoyance with the reception delay on my cell phone started me on a path that led to Ann Louise Gittleman’s book Zapped: Why Your Cell Phone Shouldn’t Be Your Alarm Clock and 1,268 Ways to Outsmart the Hazards of Electronic Pollution. She sorts through the data on the effects of electromagnetic fields (EMF) on human health, details all the sources you’re likely to encounter in your home and environment, and gives lots of options for counter-measures you can take. She maintains an optimistic tone throughout which I appreciate, as I tend to get stressed and tune out when listening to doomsday pronouncements.

After reading about a quarter of the book, I spent three days making what alterations I could in my apartment. I turned off my cell phone and replaced the cordless phone with a corded one. Since the wired version of the beautiful Apple keyboard turned out to be $100, my poor iMac now suffers the indignity of a $13 plastic knockoff. I tried a wired mouse but fighting the drag of the cord drove me insane — how did we ever use those things? — so I switched to a trackball.

I already turned all my appliances on and off from power strips. This way you don’t have to unplug the appliance from the outlet to keep it from drawing power. I also replaced my kitchen’s fluorescent task light with an incandescent one and got rid of two lamps in my bedroom. My air purifiers will be turned off over my dead body.

I finished all these changes on a Monday. For the next three days I kept catching myself thinking it was Friday. The same thing happened the next week, also starting on Tuesday. The next week, a holiday week, that I’m-on-vacation feeling did not return but I’m still experiencing a noticeable increase in calm.

I made another change at around the same time that must also be considered. The week before I had added magnesium to my regimen. I’ve taken it before, and it can definitely be a relaxant, but it had never had this kind of effect on me. However, this was the first time I’d ever taken it in conjunction with selenium, which I’d started several months before and which for me also has a calming effect.

To me the rapid onset after getting rid of the cordless phone points to an electrosmog correlation. Another is the weird weekend and holiday increase in jitteriness, which could be explained by the increase in the neighbors’ electricity use compared to the work week. I am one of the few people in the building who work at home.

Ideally I should reinstate the cordless phone and wi-fi and see how I feel, but I can’t bring myself to do it just yet. And of course actually measuring their EMF output would be interesting. But as subjective as this is, I’d say that the cordless phone was responsible for the greatest part of the effect I noticed.

After making those changes I got a little overwhelmed by Gittleman’s other suggestions, which cost a lot more money. Moving my iMac’s CPU tower further away from my body isn’t possible (it’s grafted to the monitor), so I’d have to purchase a different computer setup. Microsurge suppressors, which block voltage spikes from outlets, would add up to several hundred dollars. I wouldn’t want to try them until I could actually measure what they were lowering, but the gadget to measure that also costs several hundred bucks.

I’d also eventually like to measure everything you can’t shield yourself from as easily, such as the power line with two step-down transformers that’s 100 feet outside my window, my neighbors’ cordless phones and wi-fi, and the ceiling fan of my downstairs neighbor that is three feet below my bed. (Remember: EMF go right through walls.) But measuring these sources requires at least one other expensive meter. You can hire an expert to do all this, but only if you can find one in your area, and it will cost at least $300.

In the middle of this experiment I started wondering about incidents over the past three years where I’d get off the cordless/cell phone after a long call and have the sensation that everything was suddenly much quieter, as if I’d been yelling to someone in a windstorm and now was indoors. That hasn’t happened since I started the experiment. Electrical pollution experts believe that EMF disrupts your body’s electrical signals and can destroy cell walls. Perhaps my brain had to work at a higher output to fight the phone interference, and that change registered in my memory after the interference was gone.