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.

Tips on self-experimenting with nutritional therapy

  1. Don’t worry about proving anything to anyone. If you’re hoping to demonstrate to someone else the validity of nutritional therapy, or prove that your health complaints were not imagined, don’t bother. Save that time and energy and use it on yourself instead.
  2. Evaluate a trial not just on how you feel, but on what you find yourself doing. More than a few times when I assumed a new supplement regimen was having no effect, I later realized I had run twice the number of errands that week, or checked three-year-old items off my to-do list.
  3. Evaluate a trial based on how you feel when you stop a supplement, too. It’s valuable info. You might consider repeating the stop-and-start a few times.
  4. A bad reaction to a supplement is also good info. If vitamin B6 makes your fingers go numb, your vitamin B12 levels might be too low. If zinc makes your sinuses swell up, your vitamin B6 levels might be too low, etc.
  5. Remember that your deficiency symptoms might change over time. Low zinc levels might give you acne now, but next year it just might make you irritable.
  6. Heed that feeling that if you take one more supplement you’ll explode or go insane. It’s your body/brain/liver’s way of saying “enough.” Take a break. (Remember, you gain info from stopping a supplement, too.)
  7. Do what you can and don’t worry about it too much. This advice from one of my acupuncturists has served me well. If you find you can’t tolerate a lot of supplements, if you’re getting nowhere, or if you’re overwhelmed by all the conflicting info or frustrated by the lack of it, join the club. We’re all flying blind, really.
  8. Don’t feel pressured to self-track. By self-tracking I mean choosing a certain number of parameters — e.g., mood, suicidal to ecstatic, or hair loss, none to fistfuls — and assigning a value to each on every day of your experiment. (As distinguished from just writing down your observations so you don’t forget them.) If you don’t feel like doing it, don’t. Whether or not you can illustrate day-to-day progress with a line chart has no bearing on the validity of your experiment. If anyone gives you crap about this, tell them to go back to their Dungeons & Dragons game.

    Other reasons not to self-track:

    • If you have a longstanding, distressing health issue, it might be a psychological drain to focus on it every day. Writing down “15 minutes” on a sleep chart every morning for weeks will suck you dry.
    • If you’re experimenting to see what effects a supplement has, you won’t have parameters. What you discover might be completely unexpected.
    • In theory, self-tracking (aka quantified self) apps can be hacked and your data used against you by insurance companies and employers.

ANT - Nutritional therapy tips

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Image: still of John Barrymore in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” 1920. {{PD-1923}}. Found on the Internet Archive’s Silent Films site.

It’s time to wrap this up

After 2 1/2 years of blogging I am ending my regular posting schedule. After September 30, 2013 I will only post sporadically, to document any earth-shattering results I elicit from my self experiments. I will continue to welcome comments and emails, however, and will respond ASAP.

The New World Outhouse requires that I cobble together several part-time jobs in order to feed myself, and I’ve been struggling with my already-modest publishing and social media schedule. Just keeping up with the back-end is a chore: I lost 90% of my traffic before I noticed that a vital WordPress plug-in had stopped working. And don’t even talk to me about $#%^@ Feedly.

Like a lot of health bloggers I have been constrained by worries about discrimination by potential employers who read this content. Not being able to say everything I need to is a real drag, especially since I have received so much helpful info from my readers. I just know that someone out there has a tip about coping with cannibalistic urges and parasitic twins that could change my life.

Eventually I hope to condense all the site’s content into e-book form and post it on Amazon for $.99. Thus will my media empire be founded and that Oprah chick knocked off her high horse.

Many thanks to fellow bloggers and biohackers Steph Strand and Seth Roberts for reaching out and letting me know that someone was actually out there reading. And a million thanks to everyone else who contacted me.

All the best to you.

ANT - Ciao!

Six links for August 2013

Here’s a selection of articles I’ve tweeted/facebooked/google-plussed about this month. I jumped off the social media hamster wheel for a few weeks so the list is shorter than usual.

  1. More applications for hallucinogenic mushrooms
  2. Another condition to investigate if you’ve been chronically, mysteriously ill: high oxalates
  3. Prickly pear for jet lag. Hangover & high blood sugar, too. (Available as juice or tablets.)
  4. Why the 3,500 calorie daily diet of 19th-century Victorians is better than ours
  5. How chicken feed led to discovery of vitamins
  6. Nurse practitioners offer patients more non-drug approaches than doctors

Adventures in Nutritional Therapy

Specious invocations of the placebo effect argument

Usually for the sake of my mental health I try to tune out the many, many misuses of the placebo effect argument I see online, but after running across a few prime examples I’ve decided to collect the best of them here. I’ll add more as I go. Here are two to start. (Emphasis mine).

1. Comment on a Bulletproof Executive post by Dave Asprey on his off-label use of the narcolepsy drug Modafinil to enhance concentration and alertness.

COMMENTER: “I take modafinil on a semi regular basis (prescribed for a sleeping disorder) – i’m not sure how much effect it has, and neither can you be….It could possibly help, but we’re not sure, your experiences using it are not a reliable guide as to whether it ‘works for you’ particularly for such a subjective and unmeasurable outcome such as sleepiness – if you take a drug believing it is going to be a wonder drug you’re almost certainly going to feel like it is, when you could in reality just be wasting your money and exposing yourself to side effects…I’m a medical doctor, UK…

2. Comment on Daily Strength Insomnia Support Group in response to this post titled “I’m CURED! Finally!”:

ORIGINAL POST: “… I’d take a bunch of supplements that would boost all my [nutrient] levels to normal. When I stopped, those levels would slowly drop and a week later, I’d have insomnia again. I’ve been going through that up and down cycle for a long time…I finally found out why I couldn’t maintain adequate levels of anything and why the insomnia keeps kicking in…The problem was, I was very low on an essential amino acid called L-Lysine…Low Lysine levels lead to body stealing nutrients from muscles to feed brain which lead to fatigue which depleted nutrients from body which meant w/o enough nutrients, not enough fuel to produce brain chemicals to perform sleep cycles which lead to insomnia.”

COMMENTER: “Mmmm, there might be another explanation Galvatron. One of which might be your belief that you would crack it. Trying to crack it has provided such a distraction that finally something else has taken place instead of fears around insomnia etc. Also, insomnia from the literature does seam to run its course.”

Adventures in Nutritional Therapy