30 Day Trial–Supplements

Today in class, my teacher and I had an interesting discussion about the value of scientific testing versus anecdotal evidence. She comes from a very scientific background–even though she KNOWS how thoroughly trials can be skewed, she still finds herself looking for studies to verify her recommendations.

I’m a big fan of self-experimentation. Many of the blogs I read are written by people who have done extensive self study to figure out what works for them. To me, it only makes sense. Of course, it’s important to do research and consider contraindications for any diet or lifestyle change, but when it comes to advice on how to live well, science, not tradition, is the upstart impostor. What are cultural food traditions if not extended anecdotes, passed on throughout the history of a people? And what is our own food culture if not a story about what we’ve learned in our lives?

Although there’s much value in scientific testing, only I can really determine if a particular nutrient or program works for me. My body is unique, and randomized trials aren’t going to tell me whether medicine A or exercise B suit my constitution. Because I’m learning so much amazing stuff in class, I’ve decided to test some of it out on myself.

Successful self-experimentation seems to involve several factors. It must be consistent, specific, and long-term. For my first 30 day trial, I picked an area of intrigue that I knew would be fairly easy to implement–supplements.

After reading the book Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, I’ve wanted to experiment with supplementation as a way to boost mental health. The author, Patrick Holford, is doing fascinating work with megadoses of specific nutrients, and if what he says is even partly true, I stand to benefit enormously by trying it out.

Here’s the breakdown:

Course of Action: Take supplements consistently for one month, with megadoses of particular nutrients aimed at stabilizing mental health.

Details: I’ve been taking supplements three times a day, at breakfast, lunch, and just before bed. At breakfast, I take a multivitamin, EPA, a B complex, B6, chromium, and vitamin C. At lunch, I take another multi, EPA, cod liver oil, a B complex, and vitamin C. Before bed, I take St John’s Wort, magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, and EPA. Let me just say, that is a ridiculous amount of pills.

Specific Symptoms to be Monitored: I have what appear to be mild manic depressive tendencies. When I say mild, I mean compared to what is actually diagnosed as manic depression. So I can hold down a job and not bankrupt myself, but if left to my own devices, can go a week without leaving the house and the next week with five projects every day on three hours of sleep. I would like this to stop happening. I’ve also developed some PMS symptoms in the past few years that didn’t exist when I was younger.

Hypothesized Benefits:
multivitamin: provides the body with any nutrients that may be lacking in the diet, allows other megadosed nutrients to be synthesized more effectively. This is more an insurance policy against further imbalance than it is for any particular symptom.
EPA: low levels linked to depression. Protects against inflammation, linked to memory and focus, heart health, brain health, and about a zillion other things. When it comes to many mental health issues, it’s specifically the EPA that seems to make a difference, not the DHA.
B Complex: provides energy, necessary for nervous system support and optimum function, linked to mood and digestion
B6: specifically useful in treating PMS symptoms
Chromium: useful for blood sugar balancing
C: potent antioxidant, reduces inflammation, boosts immune function, and cleans the kitchen sink
Cod Liver Oil: a good source of Vitamin A and D, traditional remedy for everything
D: sunshine vitamin, necessary for bone health, mood, immunity
St John’s Wort: traditionally used as a herbal remedy to boost and stabilize mood
Calcium: ah, we all know about this one, right?
Magnesium: did you know that calcium has to be balanced with magnesium? Many of the bone disorders attributed to lack of calcium are actually a proportional imbalance of calcium to magnesium. Also acts as a muscle relaxant, and aids in PMS symptoms.

Hypothesized Drawbacks:
In case I haven’t mentioned it, that’s a lotta pills. Also, there are studies showing that supplement use can be harmful. Also, I could create drastic, life-draining imbalances in my system if I’m not careful. If the supplements aren’t effective, it could be a waste of money.

Economic Impact: $$$$ Not cheap, my friends. I paid the most for my multivitamin, figuring that at least I’m getting a little of everything in a fairly absorbable form. The quality of the rest of the supplements varied substantially.

Placebo Effect: Another side benefit of this trial was that it provided me with an easy, life-affirming dose of self discipline every day. I felt good about myself for sticking to the trial. That, in and of itself, is enough to provide health benefits. A recent study (that I can’t find at the moment) showed that following through on any task every day, no matter how random, tended to increase happiness. Since one of the things I struggle with in my depressive periods is maintaining healthy habits, it was useful and happy-making to start with a small and sure success.

Verdict: B+ for now, withholding final judgment.

In terms of effort, this trial was fairly easy. I found a pill holder that could manage a week’s worth of pills, so I always had what I needed when I needed it. I managed to take some of my pills all of the days and all of my pills on 28 out of 31 days. Not bad.

One side effect I noticed was feeling sleepy and low on energy for the first week and a half of the trial. This symptom can be linked to St John’s Wort. I switched my routine so that I’m taking the whole dose at night. Since then, I haven’t had any problem. I also notice that I sometimes get mild heartburn after taking the supplements. I suspect that this is partly because I don’t wash the pills down with enough water, and partly because I need to boost my stomach acid.

My mood when starting the trial was low, and now it’s on the upper end of middle. This is a tentative positive, both that my mood is improved and that it hasn’t improved too much. Also, I often get mood crashes before PMS, and that hasn’t happened this time around. I’m reserving judgment on this, because my mood swings aren’t exactly predictable. If I stay within a stable range for two months, I’ll know it’s because of the supplements.

I plan to continue with this program for another month, after which time I will evaluate again. Once I’m convinced that it’s working, I’ll start eliminating particular supplements to see which of this massive list has the greatest impact. Maybe I can narrow it down to two or three.

Next 30 day trial? Yoga.



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