Category Archives: supplements

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.

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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.

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Illustration by MRhea.

Can’t tolerate a supplement? Try an alternate formulation

Updated August 19, 2013

If a trashed liver, freaked-out nervous system, or fried digestion makes you super-sensitive to various supplements, you might try another delivery method or formulation. These are the ones I know about, although I do not have experience with all of them. Let me know if there are others. See also the post on badly-designed supplements.

  • iron –> lactoferrin. This doesn’t seem to require as much processing by the liver.
  • magnesium –> magnesium spray or epsom salt baths. Absorb it through the skin and bypass those pesky organs.
  • vitamin B6 –> P5P. You’ll read all over the place that 1 mg of P5P equals 50 mg of vitamin B6, but that never helped me at all in figuring out dosage. Nor did taking a small amount of P5P make the rest of the (regular) vitamin B6 dose work better. Just try all of it in P5P form and be done with it.
  • vitamin D –> a vitamin D lamp. Or just go outside, duh. Do not use tanning beds for this.
  • arginine –> citrulline. Low-oxalate dieters will be familiar with this one. Some people who react badly to arginine do better on citrulline.
  • niacin –> niacinamide. If you can’t stand the flush, or have had too many embarrassing moments caused by misjudging the timing of the flush, use niacinamide. However, I think this form does not have the cholesterol-lowering effects that plain old niacin does.
  • thiamine –> Authia cream. This topical application reeks of garlic, but if you’re desperate, you’re desperate. Some users say that taking 10 mg (10,000 mcg) of biotin solves the odor problem.

Injections are also available, vitamin B12 being the most common. I’ve also heard of vitamin B6 injections. Traditional doctors will in dire cases give iron injections to patients not responding to iron supplements, but you might end up with a little gray dot on your arse for the rest of your life. The B12 injections are very easy to do yourself — you don’t need to find a vein, just a well-padded area. I found it very difficult to find an alternative practitioner who would give me the high dose I wanted, though.

Intravenous (IV) treatments are pretty much the arena of alternative medicine clinics. Usually a whole mess of other nutrients are also included in the drip. Vitamin C is very popular with this application. I had several IV treatments of thiamine, but it turned out not to be any more effective than the tablets for me.

DMSO is a chemical available at health food stores that will carry anything it’s mixed with through the skin. So far I’ve heard of it being used to deliver vitamin C and B12 transdermally, but there might be others. I believe you have to be careful with preparation to avoid absorbing any random insect parts or dirt. And that is the sum total of my knowledge on DMSO.

Geisha holding Rx pill by Kris Barnes

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Image of geisha by Kris Barnes.

And then there was the time vitamin B-complex drove me insane…

One of the first things you discover when you start investigating nutritional therapy is that vitamin B-complex formulations are badly designed. Never mind the dubious value of having most of the B vitamins in the same milligram amounts when no one can really say just what ratio they should ideally exist in. (Here’s a chart by Ronald Roth at Acu-cell.com illustrating the unbalancing effect that causes.) And never mind the fact that the majority of the complexes use forms of the vitamins that really don’t work well in people with stressed or overworked livers — cobalamin instead of methylcobalamin, folic acid instead of methylfolate, and pyridoxine instead of P5P (two types of vitamin B6). And what livers among us these days are not stressed and overworked?

The biggest problem with B-complex preparations is that to save on costs manufacturers seriously shortchange you on the more expensive biotin, vitamin B12, and folate. Typically only the US RDA amount is provided, which is pointless. 400 mcg of vitamin B12, only 3% of which is absorbed, will not do much for anyone.

If you rely on vitamin B-complex for a long period of time without taking additional B12, folate, and biotin supplements, you’ll eventually induce a deficiency of them. The extra, larger amounts of the other B vitamins, all of which work together and need each other to be processed, now have increased the need for that vitamin and you’re drawing on more of it than you were before you were taking the supplement. If you’re given a ton of one but too little of another, eventually those bigger doses will require too much of the lower doses.

I experienced this effect in a dramatic fashion when in an attempt to combat fatigue I decided to try 300 mg of vitamin B-complex a day, which is advocated in some circles as a fast way to get B vitamin levels up in situations where they are presumably very low — newly diagnosed celiacs for example, or recovering schizophrenics.

At the time, I was reading what someone had recommended as one of the best American detective novels ever, The Death of the Detective by Mark Smith. As it turned out, the book made the post-apocalyptic Children of Men look uplifting by comparison, and it didn’t even involve an apocalypse. As I read it, each menacing, creepy scene created stronger feelings of dread and anxiety. Paranoia carried over into my other activities — driving a car, walking around a store, etc. When I started shaking while reading one scene, it occurred to me that this probably wasn’t a normal reaction.

I figured the best culprit was the recent megadose experiment. I had taken extra vitamin B12 and biotin for a long time so I thought folic acid was probably the problem. I took 2 or 3 800 mcg methylfolate supplements and in about an hour was noticeably more relaxed.

I tossed the book without finishing it. Luckily for the author I couldn’t track him down. I was denied the satisfaction of sending him hate mail or hate tweets or some other social media hatefulness about his soul-sucking piece of crap.

fb_branded_insane

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Illustration: Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd., Paramount Pictures 1950. Remix by MRhea.

Menorrhagia, meet methionine

Adventures in Nutritional TherapyAfter a disastrous niacin self experiment confirmed once and for all that my liver is a shadow of its former self, I experimented with a selection of OTC supplements frequently mentioned in discussion forums on liver damage. Glutathione did nothing as far as I could tell, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and alpha lipoic acid (ALA) do not agree with me, and I was already taking vitamin B6 in the form of P5P. Methionine was the only other supplement I could tolerate.

Within days the scariest of the liver symptoms had gone. After several weeks it became apparent that it also had a significant effect on my heavy periods. With 1500 mg of methionine, I had a manageable period, like a normal person’s — easier even than what vitamin K2 supplements did for me. Since I had recently taken truckloads of niacin, I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t the niacin that did it, so I stopped the methionine and voila, back to the old Maxi Curse.

The 1500 mg dose turned out to completely stop me sleeping, so I tried 1000 mg. Subsequent periods were indeed easier, although not as easy as on 1500 mg.

For more on my attempts to treat heavy menstrual bleeding, see my posts on Niagarrhagia and sea sponges.

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Illustration: Detail of 1940s American Airlines travel poster by E. McKnight Kauffer.

Melatonin madness, continued

Soon after I wrote this post about my melatonin megadose experiment, I experienced one of those wacky sleep phenomena that seem to happen when you futz with the pineal gland, as SSRIs are famous for and melatonin does as well. I had a short, vivid dream that ended with someone shooting me in the head with a shotgun. Weird, but very common in these situations, as are dreams/experiences of alien abduction, sleep paralysis, and a buzzing or exploding head.

Other effects that continued for months after stopping the melatonin were not as dramatic but a lot more entertaining. Dozing off while reading a book at night, in those 30 or so seconds when I was half asleep, I’d have a dream in which some factor of human existence of which I’d been hitherto ignorant was made suddenly clear to me with the force of revelation. I would then snap back awake.

Usually I could not remember the details. The ones I do remember explained such burning existential questions as why men in Louis XIV’s court at Versailles wore high heels (to protect their feet from sewage in the halls), why five years seems to be the limit for a good TV show (the writer buys a too-expensive new house and anxiety about the mortgage ruins his mental state), and why the Maya disappeared (they got bored and wandered off). As revelations go, it’s not exactly start-your-own-religious-following caliber, but I appreciated the distraction.

Is this a type of lucid dreaming? I’m a bit vague on the definition. (It’s referred to as hypnagogia. Now I know.) Go to erowid.org if you want more info on how to make common OTC supplements work for you in mind-altering ways.

ANT - Louis XIV

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Illustration: detail from painting of Louix XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701. {{PD-art}}