Category Archives: treatments

A non-prescription approach to managing depression: debauchery

A version of this post first appeared on my older blog, Blessed Depth.

Adventures in Nutritional TherapyReading Nancy Mitford’s bio of Louis XIV, I came across this description of Louis’ cousin, the Prince de Conti, who had the misfortune to outshine the King’s son and heir in just about every way. The King got jealous and threw roadblocks in de Conti’s career for the rest of his life.

“…as the years dragged on uselessly and his hopeful youth was succeeded by a disillusioned middle age, the Prince de Conti became embittered and gave himself up to debauchery.”

Which led me to wonder: why don’t mental health professionals ever suggest this? What depressed patient wouldn’t want to hear his therapist say, “We’ve found that wallowing in all the vices at once has had promising results. Do give that a go.” Sure, it’s expensive, destructive, and if you’re doing it right, immoral and criminal, but that’s how I feel when I pay my monthly health insurance bill anyway. At least this way there’s some fun in it.

Translating this ancient tradition into modern-day practice is not without challenges, however. Patients considering this mental health solution should weigh these drawbacks carefully:

1. A significant cash outlay is required. The Prince de Conti’s expenses will not be unfamiliar to his debauched 21st-Century counterparts: gambling debts, opium, spirits by the barrel, 15-course meals, bail, trollops, legal fees, property damage claims, and the inevitable blackmail payouts.

2. Without coachmen, it is much easier to inadvertently kill people. The debauchery game has changed significantly now that one is expected to drive one’s own conveyance home after evenings spent in dissipation and depravity.

3. Strangers will butt in. Where in simpler times a family member might entreat the local minister to intervene in one’s carousing, nowadays attorneys, judges, and Child Services are usually involved.

4. There is the matter of wench identification and procurement. In the Prince’s day the respectable debauchee found his wenches at taverns or the cheaper seats at theaters. I am not sure what the current approximation is: perhaps the type of gal who shows up at the bar of whatever hotel the Yankees are staying at.

5. The template for the female debauchee has, alas, yet to be perfected. The Marchesa Luisa Casati (1881-1957) came close: she strolled through Venice stark naked, served opium at tarot-readings, painted her house servants gold, and fished the occasional dead party guest out of her fountain. But she was also rather obviously off her rocker. Perhaps the great appeal of Angelina Jolie in her single days was the whisper of a hint of a secret hope that she was debauched.

6. Guilt is not an option. The debauchee’s commitment to perversity, turpitude, and sin must not waver. One cannot succumb to feelings of shame or regret for mortifying one’s family, scandalizing one’s neighbors, and appalling one’s friends. There is no crying in debasement.

Image: detail of portrait of Fran├žois Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Conti, Anon., French school, 17th century. {{PD-art}}.

On refusing to part with my gallbladder

by Nancy

The battle for my gallbladder started in 1999. I was living in Seattle and receiving regular monthly acupuncture treatments from a local practitioner, Yehosha. In my mind that was how I was staying healthy. I noticed sensitivity on what turned out to be the gallbladder meridian. Yehosha told me that it was the “decision maker” and asked if I was having a hard time making up my mind about something. I replied with a little surprise that I was: I had recently fallen in love with the Southwest and was trying to decide if I should move to Arizona.

When I started having a lot of bloating, gas, and burping, sometimes for an hour at a time, I assumed it was just stomach upset. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it until one day it turned into strong, sharp pains across the front of my stomach and across my back. Even taking deep breaths hurt.

I went to the emergency room. When the attendant asked me if I was in pain and I replied that it was worse than childbirth — and I’ve given birth to five children — I was hooked up to an IV and given pain meds and a sonogram. The results revealed a large gallstone and an inflamed, enlarged gallbladder. I was admitted to the hospital for five days of IV feeding and lots of discomfort despite the medication. The doctors didn’t want to operate to remove the gallbladder until the stone passed and the gallbladder had time to heal, so when I was released I was told to return in one month for surgery.

I thought about what Yehosha had said about decision making, about being afraid of the unknown and of leaving the security of what I had here for another part of the country. I decided I was going to rest, investigate other treatment options, and move in one month. I WAS NOT going to have the surgery.

I compiled a list of foods that irritate the liver and gallbladder, which are responsible for bile production and processing, and a list of foods that cleanse them. No red meat, high fat foods, fried foods, nuts, or coffee (waaaaaaaaaa!). Lots of filtered water, salmon and other fish, and broccoli. An apple a day (they help break up stones), radishes, beets, and lemons. Chamomile tea for calming. Small, frequent meals rather than large. Digestive enzymes with every meal. Everything organic.

I focused less on restricting bad foods and more on emphasizing foods that help break up stones, and — the key for me — on keeping my body alkaline rather than acidic. Most modern-day foods and drinks are acidic. (Editor’s note: Trying to find reliable info on the acidity of different foods is frustrating, as sources frequently contradict each other. Sandy Simmons has compiled a list of alkaline/acid foods on her Connective Tissue Disorder Site, based on her own research and experience.)

I started feeling much better. The only complication was that I was losing weight. The gallbladder has to process that fat, so I kept an eye on not losing too much too fast.

Soon after, a spa in Sedona called me for an interview (I’m a massage therapist). That was my “go” sign: I put everything in storage and hit the road. The first night I remember a terrific amount of fear, but once I got to the first overnight stay and awoke the next morning I felt a little braver.

That was 13 years ago. Since then I’ve had two gallstone episodes, both in the last year. I managed to help the stones pass on their own, with some discomfort, with a liquid diet of miso, lemon water, and lots of juiced apples.

I believe that our body is our telegraph office rather than our enemy. It wants us to know when something is not in balance, whether it is emotional, spiritual, or mental. (The author Louise Hay is an excellent resource to explore the power we have to heal ourselves.) Our bodies are quite magical and intelligent. We are the pilots and navigators of our own little universe. As long as we pay attention and make the corrections that we can, it will cease its warnings. Obviously I believe in alternative and natural methods of medicine before allopathic, but we all have to walk our own path. I honor the body/mind/spirit connection.

Because I didn’t have health insurance, that five-day stay in the hospital cost me close to $7,000, which I also did not have. Two years later I had to file for bankruptcy. But I made it to the Southwest and didn’t regret any of my decisions.

The needle and the damage done: three weeks on intravenous thiamine

Adventures in Nutritional TherapyAfter discovering that thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency might be a factor in my insomnia, fatigue, brain fog, and chocolate/sugar cravings, I began experimenting with different formulations of it. Starting with the usual drugstore stuff, I moved on to two Japanese concoctions and then for a grand finale I tried a series of IV treatments to the tune of $1,700, almost none of it covered by insurance, with promising if not miraculous results.

Why thiamine? I initially tried thiamine after discovering it is involved in GABA production, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that’s a big factor in sleep. Thiamine is also involved in carbohydrate metabolism — converting food to energy — and I figured out a long time ago that my infuriating chocolate/sugar cravings must be caused by my brain’s inability to process glucose, which is what the brain runs on.

Thiamine deficiency is most commonly associated with alcoholics and diabetics. If you are neither one of those, your doctor won’t consider deficiency as a possibility. Extreme deficiency has recently been implicated in autism (but then, what hasn’t?), dysautonomia, or dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system, and multiple chemical sensitivities, among other things.

Thiamine hydrochloride (HCl), benfotiamine, and tetrahydrofurfuryl disulfide (TTFD). A post at C for Yourself alerted me to the different types of formulations and their wide variations in quality. (It’s disturbing to think that a lot of nutrient deficiency research is based on crappily manufactured, minimally effective supplements.) Thiamine HCl made me nauseous. Benfotiamine, at 900 mg a day, tripled my energy in about four days, reduced my sugar cravings, made me able to sense my muscles again for the first time in years, improved my brain fog, and rendered my insomnia total.

The TTFD was harder to locate. At first I could only find a topical cream formulated for autistic kids who can’t take pills. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, a lot of people with longstanding unresolved health problems find themselves on autism websites and forums, because parents and doctors of autistic children have been forced to go far beyond conventional medicine in their search for help for their kids.

Holy cow, it was awful. Did I mention that thiamine is derived from garlic? It took three showers to get the smell off. I did feel safe from vampires for the first time in a long time, though.

Eventually I found 50 mg TTFD tablets online, but couldn’t find any info about dosage ranges except for the bottle’s instructions, and I haven’t paid any attention to that in years.

Doctor’s appointment. When I realized that one of the biggest thiamine researchers, Derrick Lonsdale, was 20 minutes away, I made an appointment with him to see if 1) he thought thiamine deficiency could indeed be a major factor in my symptoms and 2) what the heck dosage I should use.

He said I presented an interesting case, that he uses up to eight tablets a day of the TTFD with his patients, and that IV application is a good way to get your levels up fast. (Here’s a list of the lab tests he ordered and a total rundown of my expenses.)

Advantages of IV administration. As I understand it, the IV dose (he uses 25 mg) is used almost entirely by the body and gets the thiamine where it needs to go faster and in a more uniform application than tablets, which are at the mercy of the vagaries of your digestive system. The TTFD is thus more likely to find its way to your brain faster. I picture a sort of basting of the tissues, but I also don’t really know what I’m talking about and sometimes I doubt the experts do, either.

After the IV sessions I went back to the 50 mg tablets. Dr. Lonsdale said he doesn’t know how much of each is absorbed by the body, and that I’d have to experiment with the dose.

IV treatments. The IV treatments require at least a day in between each. They take either 30 minutes or three hours apiece, depending on which accompanying nutrient therapy drip you get. I signed up for a three-hour “bag” for the first treatment, but couldn’t sit still that long and left after 2.5 hours. For the remaining treatments I used the smaller “Myer’s cocktail” drip. Here’s a list of what’s in the two preparations (minus the 25 mg TTFD).

The flophouse clinic is pleasant and quiet and has lots of light. Rows of blue recliners fill two rooms and white chains (for the IV bags) hang from the ceiling on either side of each chair, like a very relaxed slave ship.

The TTFD is shot into the IV from a syringe . It is an odd sensation. For about three minutes my head fills with the smell and taste of garlic-infused melting plastic. One of the nurses told me that other patients describe it as burning rubber.

Observations a week after treatment:

  • small increase in energy, but not back to what the benfotiamine was doing
  • lowered magnesium, as Dr. Lonsdale warns about. Symptoms for me are lowered mood and dry, peeling skin. He advises soaking the feet for 30 minutes in epsom salts, but I just take 400-600 mg of magnesium citrate.
  • a little light-headed after each treatment, but not so that I can’t drive
  • lowered riboflavin (vitamin B2) levels. B1 and B2 seem to work together and if you’re low in one, you’re often low in the other. My eyes get tired and feel like sandpaper and my lips crack.
  • sleep was not adversely affected. After the fifth treatment I slept better, but it only lasted a few days. I had to start taking iron again, which always stops me sleeping, as it was getting so low I couldn’t function. I found a reference in a Science Daily article indicating that thiamine binds to iron, which would be a big problem, but couldn’t find any other citations to back it up.
  • chocolate/sugar jonesing was a bit reduced, but not as dramatically as with benfotiamine. The effect wore off within three days after an IV session.
  • the abdominal pain I complained about in this post disappeared. I didn’t notice until Dr. Lonsdale asked about it.

I did have two strange experiences in the hours just after the first treatment. At the grocery store I suddenly felt that all the food smells were a lot stronger and more intense. It lasted a few seconds and then was gone. At home it happened again. I’m guessing that it was due to something in the nutritional IV, rather than the TTFD.

I’ll follow up in a later post.

Illustration: Remix by MRhea of 1959 pulp novel cover found here.

A few ways to simplify your life if you’re energy-challenged

In the years I had to deal with limited mental and physical energy, I made some adjustments to my life that were individually small but added up to make a significant difference in my sense of well-being. Some of them I adapted from the various “lifestyle design” books I’ve read over the years. Basically they involve exerting a little more control over your environment to remove daily irritations that become mental burrs in your brain.

1. Get over the idea that Money Already Spent trumps your Time and Effort. Learn how to translate expenditures into physical and mental terms. If you spent $250 on a Turkish bathrobe, but it’s so heavy it unbalances the washer twice every time you wash it, that physical output requirement plus the mental irritation lower its value.

Assign an hourly value to your time and weigh the cost of errands against it. If you want to return a $35.00 item but it takes 60 minutes to go to the store and back, and your hourly value is $25.00, it might not be worth it to you. (Of course sometimes it’s the principle of not being taken advantage of with a crappy product that matters.)

2. Make daily to-do lists that you can accomplish the majority of, even if it means including items such as “pet the dog” or “walk from bedroom to living room.”

3. Give away or toss possessions you don’t use, including stuff in storage, books you meant to read someday and haven’t, and clothes waiting to be mended. If you’re not using it, someone else probably needs it more. And as Timothy Ferriss says in The 4-Hour Workweek:

“…clutter creates indecision and distractions, consuming attention… It is impossible to realize how distracting all the crap is — whether porcelain dolls, sports cars, or ragged T-shirts — until you get rid of it.”

4. Walk through your home and record every little annoying thought that occurs to you. Take a few weeks. Make a list of everything and either fix the problem or trash it.

  • The treadmill that needs a surge protector or God forbid it will be fried in a storm
  • The rug that trips 3 out of 5 houseguests
  • The photo that reminds you of that bitch who insulted you at that wedding
  • The stepcan you have to contort yourself to toss items into

5. Do the same with your furniture. American households are very cookie-cutter: a table with four chairs, a sofa, a coffee table with magazines on it.

  • Rearrange your furniture so that you can walk more or less in a smooth line from room to room. Consider the kinetic energy involved in, say, coming to an abrupt stop and making a hard right turn 14 times a day.
  • If you never entertain, you can eliminate extra seating and use your dining room for something else — your train set or as a library or a game room.

6. Do the same with your lifestyle. This is a little harder because it requires identifying social conventions or aspects of your personality you might not think about. Embrace your quirks, and remember that convention is often stupid. Think of foot binding, or those big wooden forks everyone had on their kitchen walls in the 60s and 70s.

  • My example: I cannot stand seeing the mail when I get home from work. I rent a UPS Store mailbox and only pick up my mail when I feel like it. I auto-pay most bills.
  • Give yourself permission to weigh the mental value of making more elaborate and expensive adjustments to your home. It might be even more important to your mental health if you have to stay at home more often because of your physical health.
  • If the news depresses you, don’t read/watch/listen to it. Who cares if you don’t know about the latest serial killer or the riots in Palm Springs or the name of your mayor?

7. Never, ever finish a book or movie you don’t like.

Review of CureTogether, a crowd-sourced health research tool

CureTogether is a free self-tracking online health tool has been around since 2008. The website was originally started for people with chronic pain to post and rate the different treatments they’d tried, but the list of conditions has grown to 500 over the years, including non-chronic ones.

For each condition you can report the symptoms you’ve experienced and the treatments you’ve tried, and rate the treatments’ effectiveness. You can also view all the data collected for each condition in the form of easy-to-understand graphs showing effectiveness, popularity, how many people reported each symptom and tried each treatment, etc.

You enter your data for each condition in the form of surveys, starting with a list of symptoms, to which you can add your own. (Someone added “inability to swim in cold water” for fatigue.) The editor in me wonders who cleans up the entries, as I can see five people with skin conditions entering psoriasis, itchy skin, dry skin, etc.

Next is a survey of treatments, again with the option of adding your own. When you check off or write in a treatment, you then have the option to list any side effects you experienced. Finally, you indicate what you think caused your fatigue or boils or parasitic twin, and you can add a comment about what you’ve learned about your condition that might be of use to others.

I was curious to see how many new treatments I could find for conditions I was familiar with, and to what extent prescription drugs feature in the treatments. In the small selection of conditions I looked at, I found about what I’d expect in terms of prescriptions — a lot — but there were a decent number of non-Rx approaches, too.

Here’s one of the statistics infographics for eye floaters, which tend to be visited upon people with lousy myopia and, oddly enough, patients of lengthy surgeries requiring a face-down position, such as back surgery. I had never heard of omega-3 fatty acids as a treatment so I’m going to add that to my list of things to try.

You can also track certain aspects of your health on a daily and monthly basis, which are displayed in a graph. Weight, calories, and sleep are the default, but you can add your own as long as you specify the units. I added “cannibalistic urges” as a test. Hopefully that will not cause someone in a basement office somewhere in DC to start a file on me.

The site’s blog highlights those conditions that have collected significant input already, and reports on how CureTogether’s results compare with academic or medical studies. CureTogether also shares their results with researchers at places like MIT Media Lab and the Mayo Clinic.

Altogether I found it an interesting tool, so I’ll add it to the Resources and references page.

CureTogether also refers the user to these other health tracking sites, only one of which, the forums on MedHelp, I’d ever seen before.

MedHelp (which includes a section for pets!)
Google Health

Exercise idea for mental function when you’re energy-challenged

For all that the experts go on about exercise and mental function, walking, which is all I’ve been able to manage for a while, never does a thing for mine, no matter how winded I am when I finish. It turns out I need a different kind of exercise for that.

After I started taking the more bioavailable forms of folate and vitamin K, I would very occasionally have a day where I was unusually productive. Finally it occurred to me that the day before each I’m-a-genius day, I had spent 30 minutes vacuuming the upholstery with my hardcore HEPA-filtered anti-allergen handheld vacuum, which weighs 6.5 pounds. It’s a royal pain after about 10 minutes of use, but what it does for my sinuses is a miracle, so I deal with it.

Needless to say, I’m not about to vacuum every day. Instead I get out my 6-pound exercise ball and pretend to do free throws (without actually releasing the ball, obviously) for a few sets of however-many reps, then do it again every few hours. I increase the reps when it gets too easy.

Vacuuming definitely had not had that effect before the folate and vitamin K2. Deficiencies of the two cause anemia, which is associated with less-than-optimal brain function due to insufficient red blood cells, which are needed to move oxygen around. But apparently correcting that isn’t enough…you have to get the blood to the brain in the first place. And for me, walking doesn’t quite cut it.