Tag Archives: liver damage

Epic fail with the niacinamide experiment

I have now poisoned myself three times with OTC supplements, and this last time was a doozy. That’s what I get for not heeding my own suspicions about my liver health.

After coming across interesting info about niacin, it occurred to me that I stopped going out in the sun several years ago because a dark red circle would appear around my neck, a classic niacin deficiency sign. Deficiency is also associated with sugar cravings and insomnia, and that was enough to convince me to try it.

I built up to 2,000 mg/day of niacinamide (which doesn’t cause flushing) and things went fine for about two weeks. My abdominal discomfort disappeared and my ruddy skin lightened. I didn’t notice any change in sleep or cravings. The most interesting change was psychological: some internal concept of myself I hadn’t even known existed, much less that it was lacking, was now more fleshed out and solid. In CGI terms, you could say it went from being a wire-frame model to a rendered animation.

That sensation only lasted about a day before I had to quit the experiment. My hands and feet swelled up, turned yellow and began itching so horribly that before I realized what I was doing I had scratched bloody gouges in them. Tiny, hard bumps could be felt under the skin between the digits. The skin became so thin that my feet were rubbed raw where they rested on the mattress at night. My urine also turned dark brown — aren’t you glad you started reading this?

“Hmmm,” I thought to myself. “Let’s call that liver damage once and for all.”

The only way to stop the itching was to hold my hands/feet under very cold running water for several minutes. 30 minutes later I’d have to do it again. Finally I dug out the milk thistle, that ancient liver tonic. That stopped the itching in 20 minutes and kept it at bay for several hours. The non-itching periods got longer and longer and finally after three days the symptoms disappeared.

My doctor saw me a few days later and said it was an allergic reaction. She did agree to order every type of liver test insurance would pay for — a blood panel and an imaging test. The results were normal, as they always are, even that time when I completely stopped sleeping after two months on flucanazole. I suppose I should research these tests to see if there are differing opinions on what “normal” is, but I don’t know where to begin.

In investigating ways to heal the liver I discovered that one of the recommended supplements, methionine, is depleted by niacin. Sure enough, 1500 mg a day helped very quickly. In fact, two days later, my hands and facial skin were looking about five years younger. Eventually I had to cut back to 1000 mg due to sleep issues. I had to stop the milk thistle after a week or so, because of its tendency to lower my iron levels and turn me into a zombie.

ANT - niacinamide experiment
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Illustration by MRhea.

What you might not know about liver damage

Adventures in Nutritional TherapyLast year I concluded I was on the wrong track re: my remaining stubborn health issues and I started revisiting theories I had abandoned earlier, either out of insufficient information or insufficient confirmation or because it was just too much of a hassle to think about. One of those theories was liver damage. I had suspected liver damage very early on, after the first bout with killer insomnia -– we’re talking 40 minutes of sleep a night for three months. That sprang up when I was given a two-month course of what turns out to be a famously toxic antifungal, Diflucan. However, over the years, dozens of blood and imaging liver function tests came back normal. (I never had a biopsy, because you can’t get one without abnormal liver panels unless you want to pay the $5,000 yourself.)

Here’s a list of liver damage symptoms and what each liver test does. I should note that I have never investigated each liver test the way I did with thyroid and iron tests. With the latter, I discovered there was a big gap between my doctors’ knowledge and the most recent medical knowledge about ideal lab results.

Back then, despite the lack of test evidence, I proceeded with alternative liver treatments anyway, including several rounds of acupuncture, a year of Chinese herbal medicine coordinated by my Doctor of Oriental Medicine and Harvard Med MD, the awesome Needleman, and whatever liver detox steps Ann Louise Gittleman recommended on her website, which escapes me now. I definitely had more energy with the herbals, and I could think more clearly after each acupuncture series, but even so, those health issues maintained their downward trajectory.

This time it finally occurred to me to seek out people who actually had serious liver damage, and I ended up in discussion forums on Hepatitis C, alcoholic cirrhosis, and acetaminophen poisoning. I made a few interesting discoveries. Apologies but I’m too tired at the moment to track down specific citations for all of these, but you can easily find online info on them.

  • Liver damage does not always show up on liver tests (aka liver panels, liver enzyme tests, or liver function tests). See this article. In fact, I was told long ago by Needleman that your liver might be half dead before a blood test would reveal anything. Try convincing your allopathic doctor of that. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
  • Liver damage is common in celiacs.
  • In fact, celiac-induced liver damage can develop in childhood.
  • Said liver damage does not always resolve with the gluten-free diet. (Which doesn’t mean it’s irreversible.)
  • It is not unusual for Hepatitis C patients to not know how they picked it up. It is spread by blood — e.g. a contaminated blood transfusion, contaminated medical equipment (as in these Oklahoma or Florida cases), or IV needles. It makes you wonder if poorly sterilized medical equipment is a bigger problem than commonly thought. Combine that with doctors’ reliance on deceptive liver tests when deciding whether to order the Hepatitis C test, and the fact that it has a 20-year or longer incubation period before it starts to destroy your liver, and it would appear there is a large, hidden pool of Hep C infected out there.
  • The government recently started a public service campaign for baby boomers to get tested for Hepatitis C out of fear that they were exposed by the blood supply before 1992, when routine testing began. However, my doctor, for one, had never heard of the campaign. I had to pay for the $189.00 test myself.
  • OTC treatments most commonly mentioned on discussion forums are methionine, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), alpha lipoic acid (ALA), and vitamin B6 in the form of P5P. The first three all go toward making glutathione, which the liver uses to detoxify itself. You can also buy glutathione supplements, but some authorities believe it can’t be processed by the body as well as those precursors. Hep C patients are big on experimenting with this stuff because of the awful side effects of the pharmaceuticals used to treat it. One of them is actually suspected of causing multiple sclerosis in Hep C patients.
  • If you’re into herbals, herb company employees can be a good source of info. The owner of Blue Boy Herbs in Mississippi once spent 30 minutes on the phone with me answering question about herbs for the liver and telling me what his other customers had experienced. I personally love ‘em, and milk thistle was definitely helpful, or was until I reacted horribly to it anyway, but they might not be aggressive enough for severe, long-term damage.