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

Image of geisha by Kris Barnes.

Discussion forum misinformation

Updated August 20, 2013

Some of us still remember when “regular” people were dressed, coached, prompted and edited before they were allowed to appear on any wide-reaching media — on TV or in newspapers or magazines. Almost everyone on TV looked and sounded exactly alike and were probably clones of each other kept in a basement at CBS Studios and rented out to ABC and NBC. But they were polite and proper and gave you the idea that Americans were good people and that our educational system worked, darnit.

Now we know better. Now we have the internet. Somehow Americans got the idea that if they can type, their opinions matter. (Let me be clear here — except for one obnoxious industry shill, I have no complaints about MY commenters.)

Here are ten irksome points that keep showing up on discussion forums whenever the topic turns to nutritional therapy.

1. “That health issue is genetic, so nothing you can do would help.” Now replace “that health issue” with “diabetes” — see how stupid that sounds? Just because your mother/grandfather/great-aunt didn’t figure out the problem doesn’t mean you can’t.

2. “Vitamin/mineral XX has nothing to do with [bodily process].” Each nutrient has a ton of responsibilities. It isn’t just calcium for bones and potassium for dehydration and vitamin C for colds.

3. “Vitamin/mineral XX doesn’t work for [health complaint]. I tried it and it didn’t work.” That’s right! All ailments have ONLY one cause, all people have ONLY one nutrient makeup, and the exact same thing must be behind all symptoms in all people! And all broken legs are caused by tripping over the dog at the top of the stairs!

4. “Vitamin and mineral supplements don’t have side effects.” Supplements can indeed have unexpected and undesired effects. All the nutrients in our bodies interact in a gazillion ways, and how you react depends on your body and nutrient status. What supplements don’t do is bludgeon your systems into submission the way prescription drugs do, wreaking havoc in ways that the manufacturer often does not understand or is aware of or will admit to.

5. “Vitamin/mineral XX always/never has that effect.” See above.

6. “PubMed/ncbi said so.” PubMed is like the Bible. You can find proof for whatever theory you want to believe in. For every study that says zinc prevents vampirism, there will be two that says it doesn’t. If you know a lot about study design and sample size, and are willing to look up what entity sponsored the study, you might have more faith in these sites.

7. “The supplement didn’t work but I didn’t want to waste my money so I kept taking them.” You’d be surprised at how many people are not embarrassed to say this.

8. “You’re better off getting the nutrients you need from the food you eat.” Chris Kesser, Dave Asprey, and Mark Sisson go into detail about why this isn’t true. The basics:

  1. Our soils are depleted, a fact Congress has been made aware since the 1930s at the latest.
  2. We don’t eat enough calories, because we don’t move around enough anymore. (See Chris Kesser’s post on the Victorians and their 3-4,000 calories a day vs. our 2,000-calorie diets.)
  3. We don’t get out in the sun enough, or are sunblocked from it.
  4. Toxins in the environment are messin’ us up all kinda crazy.

Which isn’t to say that I believe anyone knows which supplements can stave off age-related disease or prolong your life. All I know is that when your health goes awry, cherchez la deficiency.

9. “Make you sure you consult your doctor before starting a supplement regimen.” Okay, yeah, if you’re taking a prescription drug or have a health condition you’re worried about, you should ask the doctor about interactions and contraindications. But if you believe your doctor is going to have any interest, never mind knowledge, in what nutritional supplements can do for you and how they work together, you’re either very, very lucky or woefully deluded. I think a lot of people say this when they have nothing else to contribute to the discussion but want to participate anyway.

10. “If a supplement works, it’s just a placebo effect.” The placebo effect refers to the phenomenon wherein a reliable percentage of patients will report improved results from a medical complaint when they are given an INERT substance such as a sugar pill or salt water injection. Presumably, then, just expecting that a treatment will work creates a psychological response that makes you feel better.

Some day I will compose a brilliant, epoch-shattering expose of the moronic misuse of this concept, even by doctors. For now, I’ll just point out that if you’re on a discussion forum for a certain medical issue or supplement, it’s probably because you’ve tried other treatments and they’ve failed. You are not the type of person who is going to experience the placebo effect.

The idea that only a medical professional or scientist, never mind some random online commenter, can judge the accuracy of your own experience, of what goes on in your own biocontainer, is asinine. No one but you (or the researcher or doctor who actually gives you a sugar pill) can decide if your reaction is due to the placebo effect. Which is why you use the scientific method in your self-experiments, right?


Annoying #$@! people will say re: your mystery health issue

Adventures in Nutritional TherapyAfter you’ve spent a few months/years wandering through the medical system with a complaint no one can help you with — hair loss, psoriasis, fatigue, dizzy spells, insomnia, whatever — you start to hear the same refrains from supposedly well-meaning doctors and civilians.

“Are you sure it’s not just depression/stress?”
Translation: “America’s healthcare system is the best in the world, so I think I’m safe in saying that anyone who thinks a doctor can’t solve his particular problem has some sort of mental dysfunction. Besides, I heard it on a commercial for some prescription drug.”

“You should try my doctor. He’s really good.”
Translation: “You can tell my doctor is good because he’s speaks really confidently. He uses medicalese I don’t understand, proving that he’s completely up to date on all the developments of any health situation ever. I’ve never had a problem he couldn’t fix — like that sinus infection last year, OMG! I am special and privileged and expect my random PPO-plan GP to be better than your random GP or specialist.”

“In cases like that, the cause is usually genetic.” (Doctors)
Translation: “When you get something your mother/grandmother/great-uncle had, why should we be expected to know how to fix it? Oh, they didn’t have it? Well, they probably did and you just don’t know it, because health problems we can’t fix are usually genetic. We only bother with first-generation health issues. Once it crosses to a second generation, it’s no longer our purview. It’s like, I dunno, a judgement from God or something. I never really thought about the huge logic fail with this argument before. No one ever questions my judgement, and I wasn’t warned in medical school that any patient ever would, so I am not in the habit of using my reasoning skills.”

“You have to stay positive.”
Translation: “I don’t want to hear about your health problems. I only asked to be polite and so that you’d reassure me that I don’t have to worry about you or about the possibility that it could happen to me. In America we’re supposed to be friendly and upbeat all the time, especially women, and if you don’t play along you’re violating the social contract.” (See also this Beyond Meds post.)

“You have such a good attitude about this!”
Translation: “I’m trying to force you to say something gracious and thankful and get the subject on another topic because I can’t contribute to this conversation since it’s out of the realm of my experience. At least you’re not talking about how frustrating this problem must be. I’m willing to not blame you for your own health problem but this is a gentle reminder about how I want conversations to go in the future.”

Image: Remix by MRhea.

Ten links for July 2013

Here’s a selection of articles I’ve tweeted/facebooked/google-plussed about this month.

  1. Until the insomnia cooling cap hits the market, would this pillow work?
  2. Anxious? Stressed? Visit a therapy llama!
  3. Blogger Stefani Ruger on using Epsom baths and diet to manipulate calcium levels
  4. Searchable public database lists side effects of vaccines:
  5. Ecstasy pills OK’d for Vancouver PTSD treatment trial
  6. Blame bacteria if you start putting on weight
  7. How chicken feed led to the discovery of vitamins
  8. What mid-Victorians can teach us about nutrition and health
  9. Prickly pear offers new remedy for jet lag
  10. Magic mushrooms can erase fear in mice

Adventures in Nutritional Therapy

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 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.


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

If you have insomnia and are interested in homeopathy

On an online discussion on insomnia I ran across a commenter who had combined homeopathy with the Traditional Chinese Medicine concept of the 24-hour organ Qi cycle — that is, the idea that each organ goes into maintenance mode at a certain time of day, and if the organ is in particular need of repair, the activity might affect your nervous system. The commenter used the homeopathic formulas that treat those organs corresponding with the hours she found herself awake.

Forgive me if this is a basic tenet of homeopathy that even newbie homeopaths know. I am almost completely clueless about the subject, although I can say that choosing formulations based on their descriptions on the package in the store never did diddly for me. For all that it is maligned in the press and even in alternative health circles, however, I’ve come across enough people who used it that I’m not going to nay-say it. Who cares why it works. If it works for you, it works.

Here are insomnia-related Qi cycle hours:

7-9 pm – pericardium
9-11 pm – Triple Burner. This is not actually a specific organ. The commenter used pineal gland and hypothalamus preparations for the 6-10 pm time.
11pm-1am – gallbladder
1-3 am – liver
3-5 am – lung
5-7 am- large intestine
7-9 am – stomach
9-11 am – spleen

Wake therapy for depression