Tag Archives: vitamin B6

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.

Headaches and migraines

Updated 03/12/13: P5P, a form of vitamin B6, seems to have solved a lot of this. See related link below.

My two migraine episodes were the usual tennis-ball-filled-almost-but-not-quite-to-bursting-with-boiling-oil-behind-your-right-eye kind of thing, caused by the old cliché MSG. The first culprit was a Chinese restaurant. The second, after I “got healthy,” was a package of sunflower seeds. All I’m saying is that never happened to me with Oreos.

Later I developed headaches, but not full-fledged migraines, from the amino acid L-glutamine, which I used to heal my celiac-ravaged lower intestine. Apparently this is a common reaction for people who also react to monosodium glutamate (MSG). The body can convert glutamine into the amino acid glutamate. It was still very helpful but I had to be careful how much I used.

As for run-of-the-mill headaches, I have only been bothered by them infrequently, and found them to be caused by:

  • waaaaay too much vitamin A from supplements, which for a while led to headaches whenever I ate anything with high vitamin A, such as liver
  • too much copper from ill-advised copper supplementation, also resulting in headaches when I ate copper-containing foods such as chocolate and liver
  • vitamin B6 and iron supplements, until I corrected my vitamin B12 deficiency
  • very low sodium levels, caused by dehydration on a hot day (two occasions)
  • insufficient stomach acid, causing brief headaches whenever I ate anything
  • vitamin D3 supplements, by lowering my thiamine (vitamin B1) and B6 levels too far.
  • amino acid supplements, including 5-HTP — In the case of 5-HTP, this was due to its effect on B6. See last link.

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.

How I treated carpal tunnel syndrome

This was straightforward enough: vitamin B6. Carpal tunnel syndrome was endemic among my fellow data entry workers in XYZ insurance company’s workers’ comp processing department. About every tenth woman there (we were 98% women) wore a wrist brace. I escaped their fate until a few years later at another typing-intensive job, by which time I had already heard about the connection with vitamin B6.

I don’t remember how much I used, but it wasn’t crazy — maybe 100 mg a day? I might also have been taking B-complex, which would be another 50 mg of B6. It didn’t take long to work — a month at most. I continued to take it long after the pain disappeared, as I was nervous about the possibility of the pain returning, since I was still a keyboard slave. But eventually I did and the carpal tunnel never returned.

A more active form of vitamin B6, P5P (pyridoxal-5-phosphate), might be called for if you have no luck with regular vitamin B6.

I also discovered early on that I cannot use a center-placed trackpad on a laptop. Just 10 minutes contorting myself with that thing makes my arms hurt. I’m also careful not to get the mouse, and thus my elbow, too close to my body when I’m working at the computer. (Check out this guy who avoids the mouse entirely by using not one but two Apple Magic Trackpads, one on each side of his keyboard.)