Tag Archives: iron

Conditions to consider if you’ve been mysteriously sub-par for a long time

Updated August 14, 2017.

Here’s a list of conditions I’ve investigated over the years as I tried to solve my health problems. You’ve no doubt heard of some of them but might think the symptoms don’t apply to you, or might have been given the wrong test or had your test results evaluated with the wrong lab ranges. All but two of the items listed (Lyme disease and mold / biotoxin poisoning) have the benefit of being easy (if not cheap) to test for or at least rule out.

You cannot trust your doctor to know the right lab ranges, so if you do have tests taken, make sure you arrange to have copies of the test results sent to you. I can’t be the only person who had a ferritin so low I couldn’t even sit up straight, and yet was told repeatedly over the years that my iron levels were fine.

B12 deficiency. This requires two or ideally three tests: the usual one, plus two you’ll have to specifically ask your doctor for and which your insurance company might not cover. If you are already taking B12 supplements, the tests will not be accurate, a fact your doctor might not be aware of. The book Could It Be B12 has up-to-date info, or if your brain fog isn’t too bad you can look at the intro docs at the Vitamin B12 Deficiency is Commonly Misdiagnosed forum.

Bromide poisoning. This substance is everywhere in our environment and food supply, and because of its link to breast cancer, sites about that topic have the most info. Here’s a short intro on the subject. This condition tends to go hand in hand with iodine deficiency (see below).

Food reactions. This seems really obvious, but it might be that you are reacting to a certain category of food but haven’t tried enough types of foods in that category to make the connection. If you’re lucky, it might be a category connected to a deficiency you can correct. For example, oxalates lower zinc levels, salicylates lower vitamin K, and goitrogens can lower iodine.

Histamine: the Low (histapenia), the High (histadelia), and the Intolerant. People think of histamine in terms of allergies, but your histamine can go awry for non-allergy related reasons and cause all sorts of wackiness, many involving your mental state. (“Histamine intolerance” refers to having a body that wanders into histadelia territory too easily.)

If I have this right, two main culprits are behind high histamine – wonky methylation and/or? low DAO enzyme levels. This article on histamine intolerance describes it in terms of low DAO. This article on the effect of brain histamine levels focuses on methylation. Ignore the fact that histamine is spelled wrong for a third of the article. Also be warned that the author is behind the times in her belief that folic acid and vitamin B12 should not be used for histadelia. There are now methylated versions of each on the market that are used to treat methylation issues.

Iodine deficiency. This deficiency is getting more and more common but misconceptions abound. For one thing, what doctors assume are hyperthyroid reactions to iodine are in fact usually bromide detox symptoms. Drs. Guy E. Abraham and David Brownstein have books on the subject. A primer is at Breast Cancer Choices. The Yahoo Iodine Group also has intro documents. (Be sure to read the bit about how they tracked down the source of the oft-repeated warning about iodine causing heart failure.)

Iron deficiency. This requires four lab tests to evaluate correctly. Stop the Thyroid Madness has a page on recommended tests and lab ranges and how to take iron supplements. If you’ve lost hair due to low iron, you’ve probably read in your internet research that your ferritin level has to be in the 70s for three months before your hair will grow back.

Long-term effects of prescription drugs or supplements. Some prescription drugs will affect your biochemistry for 15 years, but your doctor will tell you they are out of your system in a few months. Xanax, for example, can disastrously affect your levels of the neurotransmitter GABA, which is involved in sleep. Also see the books Drug Muggers by Suzy Cohen, Supplement Your Prescription by Hyla Kass, and The Nutritional Cost of Prescription Drugs by Ross Pelton and James LaValle. Blogger Monica Cassani at Beyond Meds also covers this subject a lot.

The same can be said of any supplement. If you ever took anything in large amounts for a long period of time, it might have affected levels of its cofactors. Vitamin D, for example, can lower vitamin K levels, among others. L-glutamine, often used in huge amounts by body builders, can deplete vitamin B6. Nitrous oxide, aka laughing gas — you know who you are — can deplete folate.

Lyme disease. This is significantly under-diagnosed. Mainstream doctors rely on an unreliable blood test for diagnosis and often won’t order the test if you don’t remember getting the stereotypical bullseye rash, which half of patients don’t get anyway. Unfortunately the far more accurate test (about 75%, said one alterna-doc) by the company Igenex is upwards of $750. The good new is you don’t need a prescription.

Mold or biotoxin poisoning. One of the first doctors to bring this to the public’s attention was Ritchie Shoemaker. His books are a good place to start. I also recommend the pdfs put out by a citizen science group made up of a group of his former followers, who are making many new discoveries about effective treatment and about mold behavior. Some of their findings about recovering from mold and other biotoxin poisoning, borne out of personal experience, differ significantly from Shoemaker’s opinions. For one thing, the group has found that mold remediation of a home rarely works when someone has reached a certain level of illness, because it cannot eliminate the toxins themselves, only the mold spores. A significant percentage of “moldies” have also been diagnosed with Lyme.

Pyroluria. In pyroluria, the body can’t process sufficient vitamin B6. You can be born with it, in which case your life probably sucks, or it can develop from a long-term deficiency. Convincing your doctor to test for it might not be easy, but you can arrange it yourself for about $129. I used The Bio-Center Laboratory in Wichita, Kansas. The test does not require a prescription or blood draw but it does require careful handling — refrigeration, close timing, etc. Here is a list of symptoms.

Thyroid wonkiness. Most doctors only test TSH and not the other hormones, and use the wrong lab ranges to evaluate results. Stop the Thyroid Madness has lists of recommended lab work and optimal lab values.

Please let me know if you have any other suggestions for this list.

Back to the ’70s for asthma treatment

About six years ago I realized I was getting very tired every time I visited a home with a resident cat. It was annoying but easy enough to avoid. Then, after a round of weekly 50,000 IU vitamin D doses, I got a day-long burning-lung, wheezing, iron-vise-on-the-ribs reaction that made me wonder if my appointment with my maker had been moved up.

Off I was sent to yet another fancy-ass specialist for blood tests and breathing into a bellows thing and x-rays, which had to be taken twice because I apparently have “really long lungs” that did not fit on the x-ray plate. The diagnosis was a one-off asthmatic allergic reaction.

Thinking the big vitamin D dose was just too big, I tried smaller doses of 1,000 IU, but the effects were similar. I then considered the possibility that it had overwhelmed my levels of the competing fat-soluble vitamins A and E. Vitamin A did help slightly, but not enough.

It finally occurred to me that I had forgotten about vitamin K, another fat-soluble vitamin. According to PubMed, a 1970s Japanese study treating asthma with vitamin K was quite successful.

I took 1,000 IU of vitamin K2 (menaquinone 7) for two weeks before my next attempt at vitamin D again, this time working up to 6,000 IU. Voila! Almost no reaction, and iron got rid of that. Eventually I could do without the iron entirely. I guess that since both vitamin K and iron are involved in oxygen transport, they can back each other up to a point. It just took a while for the vitamin K to build up to needed levels.

I have yet to test this on feline exposure. Since that seems to be an immune system issue, I’m guessing that something else is involved.

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.

Hair loss and hair thinning: a few causes and solutions

Long before I figured out the whole gluten-ruining-my-health thing, I noticed that I felt better the less I ate. This was because like most Americans I ate wheat (gluten) at almost every meal. This revelation eventually led me to such a low caloric intake that I developed a palsy in my hands, stopped sleeping, and lost a third of my hair.

To give you an idea of how much hair: I used to wear it in a half ponytail (like this) and about every three weeks the 1/4-inch, spring-loaded barrette I used would break from being stretched too far. Two years later I could put all of my hair in the same type of barrette and the barrette would slide off onto the floor.

The switch to gluten-free and back to eating like a horse slowed but did not stop the hair loss. It took me a few years to figure out the reason, during which I was on a daily regimen of all the basics: calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, etc. When I read that magnesium deficiency can be involved in hair loss, I took extra but it didn’t help. The same happened with biotin. When I read that the two work together in some ways, I tried them both at the same time and in about a week the hair loss stopped.

It did not grow back much, though, and since nothing else has worked, and since my iron levels have never even remotely high for various reasons, I am assuming that iron deficiency is the cause. An oft-repeated statistic among hair-loss experts is that if low iron is responsible for your hair loss, your iron ferritin level has to be at 70 for three months before it will start growing back.

When I finally learned to look at my medical test results myself, I discovered my ferritin level, which had been 6 for two years, was by European standards so low as to warrant hospitalization and a blood transfusion. In two years not one of the dozens of doctors I consulted even commented on it. Finally an alterna-doc, who had seen me before, mentioned that it should ideally be 50-60.

After that episode I lost another chunk of faith in doctors and in lab ranges. To give you an idea of the widely disparate opinions about lab ranges, my conventional doc said a ferritin level of 12 is fine. In 10 years I haven’t been able to get it past 26.

Over the years I’ve noticed that the thickness/fullness of the hair can change in a matter of days based on my protein and iron intake. Drinking/eating large amounts of peppermint in the form of tea or Peppermint Patties, for example, will lower my iron levels and make my hair wimpy in a few days. Not eating protein for a few days will do the same.

Other things I’ve tried are taking apple cider vinegar and betaine hydrochloride on the theory that I wasn’t producing enough stomach acid to absorb needed nutrients, but no dice. I also tried rinsing my hair in apple cider vinegar to remove whatever buildup our notoriously hard water here might be creating, but I couldn’t take the smell. There’s no point in having great hair if you smell like a pickled egg.

Rx, OTC, diet-, and needle-based ways to treat hypothyroidism

It took me two years from the time I first suspected I had thyroid problems to get treated for it. I was very tired, had a weird, periodic hum in my body as if the ship’s engine on “Star Trek” was running in the background, was unbelievably cold outside in the winter, and my hair felt like it had an electric current running through it. But my test results from my traditional doctors, who were only looking at TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), always came back normal. When I read that ideally other markers should be looked at as well (e.g. T3, T4, etc.) I asked for those tests, but they, too, came back normal.

In the meantime, after going gluten-free, I had decided I was going to REALLY get healthy. I started eating fish several times a week and every morning I would drink juiced greens, including Swiss chard, mustard greens, and two types of kale.

I was rewarded with a worsening of my thyroid-esque symptoms (and with elevated mercury levels, but that’s another story). During yet another bout of research, probably at about.thyroid.com, I discovered that cruciferous vegetables — such as greens, cauliflower and broccoli — when ingested raw are capable of tanking the thyroid, either by lowering iodine levels or by affecting hormone production directly.

I also learned at around the same time that a New England Journal of Medicine article had declared that another, wider set of lab ranges were more accurate for diagnosing and treating hypothyroidism.

So I stopped the goitrogens immediately and felt better soon after, but the issues remained. I had at this point already given up on traditional doctors so went straight to the two alternative medicine practices I had visited earlier. The doctor I saw at the first one told me that food had no effect on the thyroid and to “put those papers away” (the copies of the research papers on goitrogens) and that “you need to educate yourself,” in a tone reserved for the types of people who believe you can get pregnant by swimming in a public pool. Then he listened to a list of my symptoms and pronounced me hypothyroid.

The alterna-doc at the second group had also heard about the NEJM changes but had never heard of the effect of those vegetables on the thyroid. She started me on 1/4 grain of Armour thyroid, which is derived from pig thyroid and has been around since the 1920s (I think). After a month or so my mood, temperature, memory, fatigue, and skin were much improved.

However, I discovered that if I took iron, which I needed for fatigue, it brought back the hypothyroid symptoms, even if I took it at the requisite four-hour interval from the Armour. Without the iron, I was exhausted. Eventually I discovered that I could avoid this effect by taking 50 mg of zinc.

Wonderful as it was, that dose of Armour did not resolve everything. When I tried to increase the dose I got heart palpitations, a weird vibration in my thyroid, insomnia, and jitteriness. Most glorious of all, a hair would start to grow out of the middle of my forehead. This is when I discovered that you can whip your thyroid all you want, but if your adrenals are shot, you won’t get very far.

The alterna-doc gave me hydrocortisone (Cortef) for about six months in an attempt to boost the function of the adrenals, but I noticed no effect at all. My cravings-driven chocolate intake also probably thwarted anything positive we could do for them.

After 18 months I got tired of taking Armour every day and asked Needleman the acupuncturist to treat me with acupuncture. That involved nine weeks of about 15 treatments, 60% of which was covered by my insurance. (This has since dropped to almost no coverage.) At the end of the nine weeks, my test levels (by the new ranges) were normal, so I dropped the Rx and never felt those symptoms again.

My thyroid numbers are still obscenely robust, or so I’m told, and yet I still cannot eat goitrogens, such as pears, buckwheat, or broccoli, without feeling symptoms. That makes me think that my remaining complaints — stubbornly low iron, fatigue, insomnia, hair thinning, and brain fog — might still be associated with thyroid function. (They are also associated with adrenal function.)

Two doctors who’ve written books on iodine (Brownstein and Abrahams) believe that under some low-iodine circumstances, the thyroid can display my type of complaints without betraying anything in the usual lab tests. In other words, it might have been bludgeoned into submission with an Rx but isn’t necessarily healthy.

One cause of sudden-onset vertigo

During my last and final attempt to get my abysmal iron levels up with doses of 75-100 mg/day, I managed to bring upon myself a nice case of vertigo. (It also caused cystic acne.) After a week of the iron it was suddenly difficult to sit upright without vomiting, much less stand up. I considered going to the ER but the only other time I’d done that I had to wait four hours. By the time I got up the nerve to go, I felt well enough to cope.

I stopped taking the iron, obviously, and the vertigo improved to manageable levels but still kept hitting me a few times a day. I also had dry eyes, which I had learned earlier was what happens when my vitamin A levels fall, and since vitamin A was one of the nutrients that competes with iron, I thought I’d start with that. I tried 30,000 IU a day. The vertigo went away in about three days. I kept taking a smaller dose for a few weeks. I also took some vitamin B12, which research-wise is actually more closely associated with vertigo than vitamin A, but I recall being convinced it was the vitamin A that did it. Vertigo is also associated with vitamin A toxicity, but I know that wasn’t the case for me.

In the meantime I made an appointment with my then-doctor to make sure my ear wasn’t actually rotting or being colonized by something vile. When I brought up my experiences with the iron and vitamin A, I got that completely unresponsive, blank look I’ve only experienced when dealing with doctors. It was as if I hadn’t spoken at all. She said it was probably just a temporary inner-ear imbalance.

That behavior, plus her reluctance to send me to a specialist after a month of abdominal pain, made me switch to one of the hospital systems that President Obama praised in a July 2009 speech about changes in health care.