Tag Archives: calcium

A list of supplements that don’t work very well in the versions sold in the US

This past year I’ve learned that some of the nutrient supplements on the shelves in the US don’t work very well, either because a significant part of the population can’t process them, or because the version used is poorly absorbed by the body, or because they are so cheaply formulated that the filler would make you sick before you could get enough of the active ingredient to resolve your deficiency.

Here’s everything I know so far. Needless to say, the better versions are more expensive and harder to find.

Folic acid: Processing this synthetic vitamin into its active form requires methyl groups and those of us who are methyl-challenged (low methylators) need to use the methylfolate version. Some sources say that the folic acid formulation is pointlessly inefficient for anyone. Using methylfolate instead certainly can’t hurt.

Calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate requires stomach acid to work, and is hard on the stomach for some people. Calcium citrate absorption doesn’t require stomach acid. (This issue isn’t as big a concern as the others listed here.)

Magnesium oxide: This is not as bioavailable as other options, such as magnesium citrate. According to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, magnesium lactate and magnesium chloride are even better options, but they are harder to find in pill form. You can also absorb magnesium through the skin in the form of epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) and magnesium chloride, which can be found in a spray oil.

Vitamin B1 – thiamine hydrochloride. This is poorly absorbed by the body. If you are only mildly deficient, it might be all you need, but I needed a fairly large dose and couldn’t stomach it at all. When I switched to the more efficient benfotiamine, I had no trouble and noticed results much faster. Another version is thiamine tetrahydrofurfuryl disulfide (TTFD), which is what I use.

Vitamin B2 – riboflavin. This is also poorly absorbed. Riboflavin phosphate AKA riboflavin-5′-phosphate AKA flavin mononucleotide (FMN) is a better formulation.

Vitamin B6 – pyridoxine. Some people have trouble converting pyridoxine to its active form, pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P). You can buy the active version in supplement form, usually referred to as P5P. Some experts say you just have to use a part of your dose in that form; the rest can be pyridoxine.

Vitamin B12 – cobalamin or cyanocobalamin or hydroxocobalamin (used in injections).
Like folic acid, it requires a methyl group to convert to its active form. I’ve followed a discussion group on B12 whose members are adamant that these types are pathetically inefficient and that methylcobalamin should be used. (There is also adenosylcobalamin AKA dibencozide AKA coenzyme B12, but I was never clear what the difference is.) If you are having injections, you might have to search a bit to find a compounding pharmacy that can prepare the methylcobalamin shots, which is less stable than the other versions and has to be carefully shipped and stored.

The reason B12 tablets come in doses with such large numbers — 1,000 mcg., 5,000 mcg. — is because the body can only absorb about 1% of it at a time.

Vitamin D2 – ergocalciferol. Depending on what you read, vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is either three or five times more bioavailable than vitamin D2.

Vitamin K1 – phylloquinone. Vitamin K2 (menaquinone) is the preferred version, but I don’t know a lot about it. Vitamin K3 (menadione) has been banned so you shouldn’t have to worry about that one.

Seven fomenters of brain fog

Several factors combined together to cause me years of spaciness and difficulty concentrating. Highlights of this period included giving the wrong last name when called on in class and almost getting my head wedged between two floors of a department store while riding the escalator. Most of the causes were ferreted out after I went gluten-free, and now I can face a big project and a tight deadline without sweating it too much, given enough Pepsi.

The problem is that metabolizing an acre’s worth of high-fructose corn syrup when you’re 25 is one thing; now it’s quite another. I’m still looking for the final pieces to this puzzle.

The main causes were:

1. and 2. High histamine, caused at least in part by low iodine

I discovered this by accident when I was working day and night on a project while playing host to a cold. Out of desperation I started mainlining vitamin C — something like 1,000 mg an hour, all day. After two days of that I realized I was thinking a lot better than normal. After some research I discovered that vitamin C lowers histamine; that in some people histamine is too high all the time, and not always with allergy-like symptoms; and that histamine occurs naturally in food, some much more so than others. Now I finally had part of the answer as to why certain foods had recently started making me spacey: eggs, rice, large amounts of protein, kimchee.

The second part of the question was why I had it now, when I hadn’t before. An uncorrected, and thus steadily worsening, iodine deficiency would explain it. According to some experts, it is rampant now that we avoid (iodized) salt. Insufficient iodine will cause a rise in histidine, which the body converts into histamine.

Another theory is that I’m not making enough of a certain enzyme, amylase, that breaks down carbs. Which with a recovering celiac’s innards wouldn’t be surprising.

3. Leaky gut

A classic celiac legacy. A damaged gut can cause dairy to be only partially broken down, and it so happens that some of those only-partially-broken-down particles happen to be in the form of opioids, as in opium, which then escape into the bloodstream and make you loopy.

4. Iron deficiency

Common enough among all women, never mind celiacs. For various reasons though, it was never possible for me to get my levels up to ideal numbers.

5. Folate deficiency

Folic acid, a type of folate supplement, never did much for me so I never investigated it very far. When I learned that it’s not a very efficient form of folate, I tried the superior form (methylfolate) and discovered that large doses made a noticeable difference in my ability to concentrate. However, at a certain amount — which sadly is also the amount that makes my fingernails look REALLY GOOD — it then raises histamine, which leaves me back where I started it made me really spacey, which felt like elevated histamine. I am not clear on what that was — my understanding is that unmethylated folic acid can raise your histamine if you’re a poor methylator, but that methylfolate would not. I really don’t know.

6. SAD, which is probably vitamin D deficiency

If I don’t use my high-intensity lamp in the fall and winter, I turn into a zombie and eat everything in sight. And stop sleeping. And think thoughts that make me look around for Hank Williams.

7. Insufficient essential fatty acids (EFAs)

These helped for about a year, then made my insomnia worse. Now they give me scary headaches AND total insomnia.

Other suspects I’ve looked at in my brain fog investigation were candida, digestive enzymes, vitamin B12, zinc, and calcium and magnesium. The latter two, once I got levels up to normal, reduced jitteriness and listlessness, which made it easier to concentrate. The rest did not seem to be involved. YMMV.


Update December 24, 2013: See also the post on methionine.

Adventures in Nutritional TherapyMy ob/gyn has only two treatment suggestions for menorrhagia, or heavy menstrual bleeding. Or, as I call it, Niagarrhagia. The first treatment is a prescription NSAID that can reduce output by 40%. Since my body freaks out at every Rx besides antibiotics, it not an option for me.

The second treatment, ablation, was probably thought up by Torquemada and involves cauterizing the lining of the uterus. The resulting scar tissue prevents or at least severely hinders the accumulation of blood. In theory, I’d then have a pleasant, light period, instead of having to trot off to the loo every 20 minutes for three days a month.

My particular brand of Niagarrhagia started 20 years ago. It was neither painful nor prolonged but was still a PIA. Three years ago it developed a nails-on-a-chalkboard quality that sent my insomnia to near-total levels. Dr. Ob/gyn explained that if the flow gets to a certain point, you can actually feel the pressure on the cervix, which makes you want to hiss and grind your teeth. There was also an increase in pain, but I’m assuming that was just a subset of the lovely abdominal pain that started three years ago.

Once again, multiple tests say I’m perfectly healthy in the affected regions and the usual culprits have been ruled out: endometriosis, thyroid or hormone wackiness, etc.

Over the years I have found three things to help considerably and reliably. First of all, getting my calcium and magnesium levels up to what I assume is normal helped by about 30 percent for a while. But it eventually crept back.

From Sandy Simmons’ site I got the idea of increasing my vitamin K intake. She recommended lots of leafy greens, but most of them are goitrogenic (affecting the thyroid, usually by lowering iodine levels) so I went for alfalfa tablets instead. After six weeks of 9 tablets a day, (3, 3x day) I had a normal, manageable cycle and continued to as long as I took them, about 18 months. Eventually I got tired of the flipping things and quit, and after six weeks the old status reigned again.

I was about one month away from scheduling the ablation when for other reasons I decided to go crazy with the vitamin B12. I read Sally M. Pacholok’s book Could it Be B12? An Epidemic of Misdiagnoses and discovered that a newer form worked better for some people and that the old recommended dosages weren’t really very helpful for repleting deficiency.

After one month taking 25,000 mcg of methylcobalamin a day (that’s 5 5,000 mcg lozenges a day), I had what for most people would be a light period. Then I had another one 13 days later. The two together were still only 20 percent of the usual, but you see the problem. After three months of the B12 it started lowering my iron levels (everything lowers my iron levels), so I quit it. (The B12 also ended the headaches that niacin, iron, and B6 used to cause, and they still haven’t returned.)

Not only does Niagarrhagia cause low iron, it can also be caused by low iron. But since I couldn’t raise my iron levels if I ground up a cast-iron pan and free-based it, there is no point in speculating.

I finally learned that vitamin K comes in supplement form and that the amount in the alfalfa tablets was smaller than in a serving of kale, so I probably wasn’t repleting vitamin K so much as just barely getting by. How I missed the supplements before, I don’t know. I started experimenting with much larger dosages. At first I was confused by all the choices — K1, K2 M-4, K2 M-7 — but finally just went with whatever K2 was on the shelf at the health food store.

Anyway, I started at 500 mcg, which might be the equivalent of one large serving of kale, depending on who you ask, and saw a definite difference the next cycle. I went up to 700 and there was even more improvement. When I realized that some people take 15 mg a day to prevent osteoporosis (vitamin D needs vitamin K to move calcium into bones, I think), I became emboldened, ordered the liquid stuff, which gives you 1 mg (milligram) in a tiny drop, and started at 2 mg/day. Much better than swallowing 20 flipping capsules and all that magnesium stearate. (Update 12/24/13: I’ve found that taking 15 mg once a week is just as effective.)

My cycles since then have been like a normal person’s, finally, although I’m still sick of the whole damn thing. Those health class teachers in junior high who tell girls that menstruation is a beautiful thing and a sign of nature’s power, yada yada, can go #$@!& themselves. Or as my Ob/gyn put it, “They’re full of shit.”

(Here are two lists of the vitamin K content in foods which differ quite a bit: Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University and The World’s Healthiest Foods site.)

If this turns out not to resolve the issue permanently, I will seriously consider ablation. I have hesitated to resort to that because I don’t like the idea of concealing a symptom without actually solving the problem that created the symptom. The cause of this particular symptom undoubtedly has other symptoms, too, that I just haven’t connected yet. To put it another way, if wasps keep getting in the parlor, I want to know where the nest is.
Illustration: 1940s American Airlines travel poster by E. McKnight Kauffer. Remix by MRhea.

Constant and mysterious leg pain, solved

Before my gluten-freedom I became aware of a constant, aching bone pain in my legs (not a tissue or a muscle or a joint thing) that was most noticeable when doing the dishes or standing in line at the airport. In 2000 or so I realized that if I didn’t take vitamin B-complex (along with biotin and vitamin B12) for two days, by the third day my legs would hurt so badly my jaw would do that shaking thing and I’d start breathing in the kind of way that makes your fellow shoppers at the grocery store edge away from you. Since I took B-complex/etc. every morning for years, though, I sort of forgot about it.

At some point I stopped the B-complex and after several months it occurred to me that the leg pain had not returned. I figured it was the calcium and magnesium I had taken for about five months a while back. B vitamins assist in the absorption of calcium and must have been dragging enough calcium in to stop the pain while they were in my system, but not enough to create a permanent change.

The heartbreak of stupid fingernails

February 7, 2013: I later had some success with vitamin D3.

Updated February 6, 2012

Growing up I’d watch movies set in the heyday of the manicure, the 1930s to the 1950s, and then I’d look down at my own bendy, shallow, round nails and I’d think, whyyyyy? When I got my first full-time job I splurged on French-manicured, squoval artificial nails and enjoyed them thoroughly despite being laughed at by the guy giving me riding lessons. Eventually the cost of filling them every three weeks got to be too much, so I abandoned the habit. I’d bet those nail salon chemicals are still in my system, plotting their oncological revenge.

Going gluten-free brought me no nail improvement. Over the years I did notice some of the classic nutritional correlations: vertical ridges when iron levels are low and hangnails when zinc is low. I can’t comment on the whole white-spots-is-a-zinc-deficiency thing, though. I just don’t remember.

As for strength and length, all the following helped a little, but nothing major:
sufficient protein intake
horsetail (silica)

My fingernails were actually pretty healthy, all things considered, until about two years ago when they started peeling from the top, shredding, and then ripping horizontally under the quick. Betaine hydrochloride took care of the first two and a ton of calcium the last.

I recently had a huge transformation but unfortunately it didn’t last. I was trying two things at the same time: Nailtiques “2 plus” nail strengthener polish from the drugstore, and methylfolate.

I was taking 8 mg of methylfolate — yes, that’s 10 800 mcg tablets. As in, a lot. When I first heard that some people might have more luck with this newish type of folate I tried it, and when 4 mg improved my concentration I just kept going. At 8 mg my concentration was amazingly better. Then I looked down at my nails and they were like another person’s. Unfortunately after several days my histamine rose to zombie levels, a tendency of folate I was hitherto unaware of, and that was the end of that. (Note 2/6/12: I’m not sure that last bit is right. In theory the methylfolate shouldn’t do that, so perhaps the zombieism was caused by something else — an induced deficiency of a folate cofactor, maybe. Not sure. Note 9/20/12: Best guess is that all that folate lowered my vitamin C levels, which for me raises histamine.)

I kept going with the Nailtiques. My nails didn’t look quite as good after the folate ended but it was still a lot better than the usual. Sadly, eventually my nails turned yellow enough to show through the pale polishes I wear. (The stupidity of stupid fingernails is only accentuated by dark polish.) It looked creepy so I quit. In theory a toluene/DBP/formaldehyde-free product would avoid this, but I’ve tried a lot of them and they didn’t do much. Nailtiques is definitely NOT carcinogen-free.

It has been pointed out to me that no matter how strong fingernails are, if they are too shallow and too wide they just won’t have the structural integrity to shoot out very far past the fingertip in Rihanna-like talons. So what I really have is a nail BED problem. Maybe there’s an unethical Brazilian plastic surgeon out there who can help me.

Three strange and unexpected effects of correcting a vitamin or mineral deficiency

1. Vivid dreams.
This effect of vitamin B6 is fairly well-known. Some members of Yahoo’s pyroluria group (pyroluria is a condition in which vitamin B6 is chronically deficient) say that you’re at the right dose when your remembered dreams are pleasant, and that you’re on too much if they are too vivid or jittery-making, but I’ve never come to any conclusion myself.

2. Random, pointless memories.
I’ve occasionally experienced this when repleting with big doses of calcium, magnesium, iron, or B12, all closely associated with memory. At the same time I realized I could recall long-forgotten Photoshop commands or go to the grocery store without a shopping list, I would also be visited by utterly insignificant memories floating across my brain: the brickwork around the entrance to a store in my old neighborhood that I never even went in, or a pair of flip-flops I wanted in fifth grade that my mother wouldn’t buy for me. I wouldn’t call them intrusive thoughts, a term used SQUIRREL in discussing mood disorders; it’s more like the Goodyear blimp materializing above your backyard — quiet, harmless, and unmistakably out of place.

My theory is that in repletion the brain finally has the resources to process the backlog of old memories, but the worker imps assigned to sort through the piles and stacks aren’t used to having to work so fast and in the chaos they occasionally send a memory down the consciousness pneumatic tube instead of the archives tube, leaving you standing in the shower wondering why the &@!* the third stanza of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” just popped into your head. There are studies to back this up — Harvard, NIH, SETI — but I don’t have time to search for the citations right now.

3. Aches in old bone injuries.
I was warned about this by another pillpopper prior to taking calcium the first time. Rebuilding calcium levels, either with calcium or with vitamin D, might encourage your body to start repairing old bone injuries, causing fleeting aches and pains. For me the loci of the pains correspond closely to past incidents involving coffee tables, ten-speed bikes, and gravel running tracks.

Note: beware a constant, dull pain, as it can be a sign of toxicity, which I once had after waaaaaaaay too much vitamin A.