Category Archives: symptoms and conditions

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.

Weird niacin deficiency symptom: perceptual changes

Recently I came across a discussion forum referring to the use of niacin for social anxiety at multi-gram doses. One commenter mentioned that based on her experience, either niacin has to be repleted in much larger amounts than commonly believed, or plays a much more important role in the diet. Or both.

This intrigued me. I’ve never experimented with niacin in any big way, because I never found any mention of big doses used for anything but heart disease or schizophrenia, the latter application made famous in the 60s by Dr. Abram Hoffer. Another issue was the annoying and unpredictable flushing. Somehow I had mistakenly concluded that niacinamide, a form that does not cause flushing, and no-flush niacin were the same thing, and since no-flush niacin definitely gives me flushes, I never bothered trying niacinamide. Duh.

I started looking around for more information on niacin deficiency. I came across this 1970 report by Dr. R.G. Green on orthomolecular.org, a site which is probably familiar to you if you’re really into nutritional therapy. Dr. Green, a family doctor in a poor area of Saskatchewan, described his experiences diagnosing subclinical pellagra among his patients, many of whom were Native Americans living below the poverty line. That is, they displayed symptoms that resolved with niacin, even though the symptoms did not manifest as the classic niacin deficiency disease of pellagra.

Pellagra is associated with poverty and low-protein diets and/or diets based on corn that has not been prepared in a way that releases the niacin for absorption. (The traditional way is to add ash to the cooking water.) Pellagra occurred in epidemic proportions in the U.S. at the turn of the 19th Century following the introduction of cheap, prepackaged cornmeal. The most famous pellagra sign is a red, rough rash wherever the skin is exposed to sun.

After spending some time with Dr. Hoffer, Green began looking more closely at patients who kept returning again and again with vague complaints of feeling unwell, despite having no physical problems. These complaints included difficulty learning, lack of interest in food, and fatigue. “X-rays and laboratory tests show nothing abnormal,” he wrote,” “yet still the patients complain. For the past 20 years I have been diagnosing them as neurotic, having flu, neurasthenia, sore throat, backache, etc. etc., for want of something better.”

Does that sound familiar?

He started asking these patients this list of questions (I’m copying from the article):

1. Does your face seem to change when you look in the mirror?
2. Do words move when you try to read?
3. Does the ground move when you walk?
4. Do you feel you walk on the ground or off the ground?
5. Do pictures move when you look at them?
6. Do you hear someone calling your name when you are alone?

If the patient said no to all of the above, the doctor would ask if they sometimes occurred. If the patient answered yes to some or all questions, Dr. Green proceeded with the Hoffer-Osmond Diagnostic (HOD) test, which is a list of 145 questions designed to evaluate the likelihood of schizophrenia. If the patient took longer than so-and-so many weeks on 1,500 – 3,000 mg of niacinamide a day to recover, Green would consider the possibility that they had schizophrenia. In that case, the treatment tended to be for life, rather than a simple matter of repletion and an improvement of diet. In the article he goes into more detail with three case histories.

I tried to find the HOD test online, but only found a paraphrasing — someone made an epic poem of it. It’s about halfway down this page on Hoffer’s website.

Dr. Green’s article is another example of the phenomenon I discovered over the years I’ve been investigating nutritional deficiencies: that after the mid-70s, the amount of information on the subject disappeared almost to nothing as prescription drugs gained prominence. As I’ve said elsewhere on the blog, I’ve got a list going of books on the topic written before then, but they’re so rare, I can’t afford them – $125 for a book is out of my league.

TMJ: a total PIA

I have never been officially diagnosed with TMJ. I’m just assuming that the term applies to the condition I experience every few years or so wherein sitting in one place longer than 20 minutes makes want to rip my jaw out and stomp on it. I keep moving it around, trying to get it to fit together in a way that will stop the dull pain that spreads into my cheeks and face.

After the last miserable episode of this during a layover at the airport, which found me contemplating how one goes about locating strangers willing to share their prescription opiates, I looked TMJ up online. The TMJ page on Sandy Simmons’ Connective Tissue Disorder site mentioned magnesium, so I added that to my daily regimen. I also began doing this yoga stretch, but holding a yoga block between my hands and pressing into it. I think I also took vitamin B12. It stopped bothering me after a week or so.

In the meantime, thinking that my less-than-movie-star-quality teeth alignment was one of the contributing factors, I visited an orthodontist who specialized in adult braces. He took X-rays of my jaws and spent an hour with me discussing them and different treatment options.

His explanation of why teeth misalignment happens made a lot more sense to me than the “it’s genetic” line everyone else throws at you. He said that breathing with your mouth open, as people with allergies are wont to do, puts your tongue in a different place than when the mouth is closed. Tongue placement influences the way your teeth grow and shift. Mine definitely lean in a bit, although in a very tidy and straight way thanks to two years of orthodontia. When my teeth bite down they’re not actually crown to crown but bottom-outside-edge to top-outside-edge. Which causes shocks to the enamel, which travel upward and cause damage that results in my gums receding, among other things.

He described a process whereby a digital model of my mouth would be taken, some sort of device would be fitted, I’d occasionally come in to have the device adjusted, and after a year my teeth would be aligned more optimally.

I don’t actually remember what he said about the TMJ connection. I don’t remember much of anything that happened after I heard the $4,200 price tag, which was not covered by insurance and was not even remotely a possibility for me. But at least the appointment was free and the information interesting.

Another weird deficiency symptom: oversensitive hearing

Over the past 10 years I’ve discovered that when my magnesium gets really low I develop an annoying sensitivity to noise. It took me a few years to put it together after the first time it happened. In that case it eventually resolved by itself, but not before I spent several months plotting the demise of an upstairs neighbor.

During my last attempts to improve my vitamin D3 status with 15,000 IU a day, I experienced it again. Vitamin D supplements in big enough doses can affect your levels of the B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and for me, vitamin K. And probably something else I’m forgetting at the moment. After a few weeks at this dose, the sensitivity to noise seemed to spring up in a matter of hours. I could suddenly hear the downstairs neighbor open and close her front door and all her other doors, too. I could also hear every other apartment door on my floor. Usually I only notice those sounds when a new tenant with bad door habits has just moved in.

(Speaking of which, if you are a parent who has allowed a child to go out into the world without knowing how to properly close a two-inch thick, solid wood door, look at yourself in the mirror and repeat the following: “I am a horrible person. Ebola is too good for me.”)

Luckily, this was an easy fix. After two days on maybe 800 mg of magnesium, the problem disappeared. One good thing about magnesium is that you don’t have to worry too much about how much to take. Unless you have a major heart problem, all you risk is the complete loss of your dignity should you overshoot the dose and not get to the bathroom in time.

Oddly enough, I first got wise to the idea that sensitivity to noise was a deficiency thing from a couple of novels. In one of Patrick O’Brian’s Capt. Aubrey books, the ship’s surgeon, treating either a scurvy or syphilis patient, refers to the painfully acute hearing of the terminally ill. Later I came across a novel set in Egypt, probably by Arundhati Roy but don’t quote me, in which the narrator refers to the extremely sensitive hearing of the very old or infirm. By that point I had learned that nutrients are depleted in illness and old age, so I figured that must be the problem.

Sandy Simmons has a page on her Connective Tissue Disorder site about her family’s experiences with hearing problems and nutritional deficiencies.

Things that still mess up my mood

August 13, 2017: My theories on this subject have changed. Until I can get my act together to update this content, please see this post.

This was adapted from a post on my older blog, Blessed Depth.

I’ve written elsewhere about how I threw off the yoke of my decades-long depression about 15 years ago, but a few things still trip me up. Some are culprits familiar to most sufferers, but some were a bit of a surprise.

Insufficient calorie intake. If I undereat for more than two days in a row, my mood will fall. A day of normal eating corrects it.

Vicodin. I don’t know what I’ll do if, heaven forfend, I’m ever in a long-term pain management situation, because even a modest dose makes me feel lousy the next day. Demerol, however, is lovely.

Dehydration. This happened twice, both times during the summer in my un-air-conditioned sweatbox of an apartment. I finally realized the extent of my cluelessness when my laptop coughed, flashed a blue OVERHEATED message, and died.

Large amounts of antagonists to zinc, B vitamins, or magnesium. If I take a whole lot of something that competes with one of these nutrients — for example, my experiments with intravenous thiamine — I’ll have to take supporting supplements to keep my mood from falling. (Another sign that my B vitamin status is suffering: I start dropping things a lot. Weird but true.)

The wrong contact lens prescription. I once spent about a week in lenses that were, say, five percent too weak and became increasingly unsettled until one night at a pub I discovered I was almost despairing at not being able to see the other pub-goers’ faces clearly. I’ve met plenty of people whose eyesight, corrected or not, is worse than mine, so maybe it’s not the exact 20/20 that’s important but that the prescription is what you’re accustomed to.

Watching television. I stopped watching TV in college, because most of it sucked and the moronic commercials drove me nuts. Fifteen years later, I turned the TV on out of boredom while housesitting and felt miserable the next day. Further experiments indicated that content or time of day were not factors, and that the effect was noticeable after about 25 minutes of watching. A poll of my friends revealed two people who had similar reactions, although they reported anxiety, jitteriness and spaciness, not low mood.

Weirdly, watching the same content on DVD, even for six hours at a time, had no effect. From this I logically concluded that either the commercials themselves, or broadcast television’s specific wavelengths, inject some sort of mind-control energy into our brains, which would jibe with my theories about Disney movies and Kit Kat bars. Eventually I did some more formal research, but the studies I found linking TV watching and depression focused on program content, physical inactivity, or the disruption of our circadian rhythms from the bright screen as causes. That didn’t explain my DVD immunity.

I had more luck finding corroborating studies when I looked at it as a multi-tasking issue, and the commercials as repeated distractions. Perhaps my brain can only be interrupted so many times.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It took me a while to figure this out because in high school in the Midwest my mood was such a constant disaster that I couldn’t discern any patterns in it — like sticking your head in a tornado funnel that’s just sucked up your subdivision and trying to spot your house — and after graduation I went straight to Southern California. Back in the Midwest years later, I thought I’d ironed out the whole depression thing, but the first winter knocked my mood back about 50%. I also ate everything in sight, lay awake all night, and was a zombie all day. I got myself a lightbox, which back then looked like a piece of airport runway equipment, and after a week was back to normal. (A few years ago, though, I noticed that light therapy no longer works if I do it after 8 a.m., whereas for years it worked as long as I did it by 9 a.m.)

The alkaline diet, colds, and cravings

A few months ago I came down with a cold that had the bizarre feature of getting noticeably worse overnight, as if a troop carrier’s worth of viral reinforcements had rolled in and disembarked. It was actually kind of scary. This monster was worse than the so-called Russian flu that went around Los Angeles in the mid-90s, which I caught three times in six months.

After reading Nancy’s post on how she solved her gallstone problems by changing to an alkaline-forming diet, I had found a lot of online anecdotal experiences from people who used baking soda (which is very alkaline-forming) to head off colds and flus. After seven days of this Cold From Hell, I started mainlining baking soda — 1/2 tsp every few hours. After four hours I was significantly better and 18 hours later the cold was almost gone. Even weirder, the insane chocolate cravings I’ve had ever since I can remember were down about 75 percent.

A few weeks before I had also started taking vitamin B2 and selenium, so that obviously had to be taken into account. If I lowered the baking soda to 1/4 tsp twice a day, or stopped the selenium and vitamin B2, the cravings came back. From this I concluded that:

1. My body is too acidic — duh. It’s not uncommon for celiacs, sugar abusers, or Standard American Dieters. Theoretically a too-acidic environment makes it harder for the body to fight off invaders or absorb nutrients.

2. My cravings for chocolate, which is very alkaline-forming, are in part my body’s attempt to balance that acidity. Even though the dark chocolate is wrapped up in sugar, I guess my body can register just enough of chocolate’s individual super-alkalinity to want more of it. (Why I don’t crave celery, also very alkaline, I don’t know.) This would explain why I prefer less sugary chocolate and have no interest in ice cream or anything sweet that is not mostly chocolate. Except the occasional Pepsi.

3. The more alkaline environment made the selenium and vitamin B2 work a lot better. I’ve suspected for a while that part of the chocolate cravings thing is that my body can’t produce enough glucose, which fuels your brain. Vitamin B2 helps with glucose metabolism, which is needed for oxygen transport. Selenium might or might not help with glucose metabolism (some say yes, some say no) but it does help with oxygen transport and energy production.

Supporting #2 is that according to alkaline diet experts, the body becomes more acidic as you sleep, and I unfailingly want to eat chocolate in the a.m., as disgusting as that sounds. During this alkaline experiment, when I ate chocolate at that time of day I would feel sick like a normal person. Eventually I didn’t bother trying and went straight for the cantaloupe (also alkaline-forming). Some weird retraining of taste going on there.

I also discovered that if I cut dairy (acid-forming) from my diet, the cravings almost disappeared. If I fell off the wagon with soda pop or dairy, the cravings came back. This observation made me wonder about what the ladies at Keeping the Pounds Off have said about dairy triggering food cravings for them. (Their cravings are much more severe and seem to include all foods). I’d never eaten a lot of dairy before — just yogurt and whatever is in chocolate — and I never noticed a correlation before this experiment.

The more alkaline diet did not seem to do anything for my semi-monthly desire to drink Pepsi and eat half a bag of gluten-free cheese curls.

Unfortunately, I was not able to continue with the experiment. Possibly because of the very acidic red meat I refused to stop eating, it took nothing less than 1/2 tsp twice a day of baking soda to see an effect, and after several weeks this was clearly too much for my digestive system. (Be warned that the sodium in baking soda can affect levels of other minerals in your body.)