November 10, 2009

In Which Jo Tries A Totally Unscientific Experiment!

Edited to add this disclaimer, inspired by the sensible E. in the comments: The results herein are totally my own experience. You should not extrapolate from my three weeks of supplement use to your own life. If you insist on doing so, be warned: some or all of the vitamins et al I mention here might interact with other medications you're taking, might cause you to develop diarrhea, heart palpitations, kidney stones, or muscle spasms (no kidding, people), or cause other problems if you can't metabolize them or overdose on them. DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH. Do what I did: Talk to your doctor, your pharmacist, and preferably a registered dietician as well before haring off and mega-dosing on stuff. Most of all, to repeat: DO NOT ASSUME THAT WHAT WORKED FOR ME WILL WORK FOR YOU.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled post.

I've been working out and doing Weight Watchers and ignoring the siren call of Cheetos now for about five months, and I've lost fifteen pounds--and maintained that loss. I've also got twenty-five more pounds, several points on my cholesterol, and a few more inches on my waist to go.

So, with Crabby's okay, I've decided to talk about a Totally Unscientific Experiment In Which I Am The Study Animal.

The conversation, which occurred via Gchat, went something like this:

Jo: So, yeah, I've been taking all these supplements lately. Is that something I can blog about, or is that kind of off the Cranky track?

Crab: I think that's a great idea, actually. What have you been taking?

Jo: Oh, just stuff like Evening Primrose Oil and magnesium and so on.

Crab: You do know, don't you, that magnesium can have a laxative effect?

Jo: Oooop! BRB...
(sound effect: Jo's feet pattering toward the bathroom)

What I'm Taking, What It's Supposed To Do, and What It Actually Does:

1. Evening Primrose Oil, 500 milligrams (9% GLA), two capsules every night before bed.

EPO is supposed to be good for getting rid of belly fat, controlling the mood swings that come with PMS, and helping with cholesterol numbers. Because I have two of those three problems (not PMS any more, thank Frog), I decided it couldn't hurt and might help.

I'll tell you one thing: This stuff knocks me on my butt, sleep-and-relaxation-wise. I don't know if that's one of the supposed benefits of EPO, but it's doing wonders for my sleep. I take it about an hour before bed and can feel when it kicks in; the muscles between my shoulder blades start to relax. To make more sure that this wasn't psychological, I tried taking it during the day and found myself falling asleep over my lunch.

2. Magnesium, 250 mg, every night before bed.

Most people aren't deficient in magnesium, but Mama's diet tends to be sketchy when it comes to things like spinach. Mama also likes her pink gin of an evening, and alcohol use can wash magnesium out of your body (even moderate use; you don't have to get completely tooty every night). So magnesium it is!

Yes, it does have a laxative effect. Let's just leave that alone, shall we? Thank you.

Mag is also supposed to help with muscle and nerve function and keep your heart healthy.

I've found that taking mag keeps me from feeling shaky and weird in the mornings and seems to help me recover more quickly from the hellish workouts that Attila puts me through. If I miss a dose in the evenings, I feel...odd the next morning, like my hands and feet aren't quite connected to my body. I'm also much, much more sore, both from Hellish Workouts and just from walking and lifting and twisting at work.

3. Zinc, 50 milligrams, at night after dinner if I've eaten enough not to get queasy.

Zinc is one of those immune-boosting, sugar-craving-busting wonder minerals that, again, Your Faithful Correspondent tends to miss because her diet is like the little girl with the little curl: either very, very good or horrid. (Incidentally, did you know that at the time that rhyme came into being, "forehead" rhymed with "horrid"? See the benefits of a liberal education right here!) Zinc is also used in the naturopathic treatment of alcoholism, to control alcohol cravings (see: sugar cravings), but so far I haven't noticed that effect. (Alcohol cravings, in me at least, tend to be more a function of the people I have to put up with at work, though, so your mileage may vary.)

Sugar, though? If I take zinc with a meal--and that's important, as zinc WILL make you barf if you take it on an empty stomach--I don't get sugar or simple-carb cravings.

As far as the immune-boosting effects are concerned, check with me in January, which is when I usually start coming down with whatever bugs are circulating.

4. B-complex capsule, with things like niacin and folic acid in it, every night before bed.

B-complexes are important for nerve function and energy. B-vites tend to get washed out by stress, caffeine, bad diets...check, check, sorta-check. Repleting them means that I have a heck of a lot more energy, I'm not as anxious about things, and I pee neon-yellow for the entire day. It's like Christmas!

The one drawback is that this particular formula tends to make me flush if I don't take it on a full stomach. Ooo--I forgot the other: B-vitamins have a diuretic effect, so I pee a lot. But I pee a lot anyhow. But now it's neon yellow! Wahoo!

Another benefit is that, combined with the magnesium, the B-complex takes away the horrible disconnected, shaky feeling I get in the mornings if I'm sleep-deprived, which is most of the time.

5. Calcium! Two chewable extra-strength generic version fruit-ick-flavored tabs before bed, 750 milligrams each.

Who doesn't love calcium? It's good for your heart, it's good for your central nervous system, it's great for your bones. It's bad for your kidneys if you're chronically dehydrated or have odd ways of metabolizing the stuff, but I don't have either, so calcium is my friend.

Calcium builds (as we all know) strong bones. It's also good for indigestion. I have no idea if my bones are actually stronger through taking icky fruit-flavored chewables (remind me to get the orange next time), but I don't have heartburn. Then again, I never had heartburn before. *shrug*

Given that I am now closer to 40 than 30--a lot closer--it's important that I don't lose any bone mass. My *grandfather* had osteoporosis, if that gives you any indication of my genetics, so I'm a little obsessive about Ca+ and vitamin D. The vitamin D I get from the sun, but come the dead of winter, I supplement that as well.

For now, that's it. If I'm pressed for time in the evening, I might pop a multivitamin (generic version of Centrum or some such), but I find that I don't feel as good as if I take the more focused stuff listed here. If I had to take only one bottle with me to a desert island, it'd probably be the B-complex; I don't know how I managed without it.

If I feel really adventurous over the next month or so, I may start taking stuff like, say, kudzu or garlic or (ew) fish oil, which makes me burp (ew). You will, of course, be the first to be updated.


  1. I take a lot of supplements as well. I take digestive enzymes which has helped tremendously with stomach issues and I am on Standard Process whole food vitamins. I'm so low on my supply right now and I can tell, my body feels really run down and I got some type of sickness that is not fun at all. I can't wait to see my girl next Tuesday to get my new supply.

  2. Interesting! I've taken the big multivitamins before (and still do, as a matter of fact) but I can't say as how I've ever felt different on them than off (which is probably why I trickle off in remembering to take them, followed by a period of NOT taking them, followed by a desire to give blood and a need for iron, followed by a renewal of interest in them, ad nauseum)

    Hearing that taking the individual vitamins has an actual measurable affect makes me wonder if I ought to give it a go.

  3. Very interesting post! I wonder if the EPO helps your belly fat & such because you are sleeping better. We all know or many of us know that getting enough sleep is a big part of weight loss & getting rid of that dreaded cortisol crap!

    I can't afford a lot of supplements so I take a mulit even though I eat good, I work out hard. Also, can't do dairy products so I take a calcium/magnesium supplement & that is it. I would take a couple more like fish oil & a couple others to assist in body recovery from my hard core eight workouts if I had the extra money ....

    Will be interested to see how this goes with you.

  4. I take powdered barley grass juice, zinc, kelp and vitamin D.

  5. Thank you for this post! Keep them coming, I say. I am also one for unscientific experimentation with supplements. I am a Weight Watcher participant for the last 7 weeks. My experimentation has been with Vitamin D, Calcium-Magnessium, Acai Berry, St John's Wort, and a multi vitamin for women. I have a difficult time with taking them daily but I do know that the Acai Berry has the opposite effect than what the commercials say.
    Now, if they could just tell me which one would motivate me to drink more water and exercise more, I would purchase an entire case!

  6. I take omega-3 fish oil capsules for heart health and to reduce inflammation in my achy knees, but since mine contain lemon oil they don’t lead to fishy burps (yuck). Jo—I get Nordic Naturals’ version from the Vitamin Shoppe online. I also magnesium, but with riboflavin since the pair (as well as feverfew) can help prevent migraines. This will make you feel better about magnesium’s laxative effect: Calcium can back you up, so magnesium is just undoing that. That’s why they’re often sold as a single calcium-magnesium supplement. I also take vitamin D. The science seems to be pretty strong on that one.

  7. Quoted: "I've found that taking mag keeps me from feeling shaky and weird in the mornings and seems to help me recover more quickly from the hellish workouts that Attila puts me through."

    Makes sense actually. I only know this from my wife's two rounds with difficult births and hospitalizations from both. Magnesium Sulfate, aka "The Mag," is what they give you to avoid seizures. It stands to reason that taking magnesium by itself would help with any shakes in addition to its other benefits of regulating blood sugar, normalizing blood pressure, and aiding metabolism and protein synthesis.

    I don't take supplements. I don't even take vitamins. Maybe it's still that fear I had as a child that I just can't swallow pills. Better about that now, but maybe that's why I don't take vitmains still. Regardless, I'm a vegetarian and eat enough legumes and spinach and all that other crap rich in magnesium.

    I'd still prefer chocolate, though. Oh well.


  8. You sleep well with EPO? I am SO on this...I get maybe one or two nights where I sleep four straight hours - mostly, it's around 2.5 and then I wake up, drift off, wake up...I would love a good night's sleep without zombie after-effects in the morning!

  9. Ah, crap. Now I have to go buy some more vitamins! ;)

    At the moment I take a digestive ennzyme supplement from Standard Process (hi, Moonlight Dancer!) and a cooling/alkalizing blend that I got from my Oriental Medicine Doctor (OMD). She also gave me something called "Calm Spirit" for anxiety, which (surprise!) TOTALLY WORKED.

    But I know I should be taking more vitamins, so I'm glad to have some info on a few specific ones! (Of course, I'll now be taking EIGHTY-FIVE pills a day, so I'm not sure I like THAT part. LOL!)

  10. hmm.... i wonder if i could sneak the EPO into my husband's dinner.. :) I swear he's up all night every night.

    oh, and it's the niacin in the b complex that makes you flush.. you can get flush-free versions if it bothers you too much. don't remember what it's called tho.

    I got fish oil awhile ago, but haven't been taking it.. i should start my own experiment. and the zinc.. i didn't know that could help with sugar cravings!

  11. Fascinating! I'll be getting some zinc and EPO forthwith.

  12. Sorry to be Debbie Downer, but I'm a skeptic on this one. I think vitamins and supplements can be helpful, but dietary supplements aren't tested or approved by the FDA and can often interact with each other or with other medications you might be taking. I'm not reflexively against someone taking them, but I AM reflexively against reading a single post on the internet by a person who believes a handful of supplements are helpful -- and I note here that the placebo effect is a hell of a drug -- and saying "Great, I'm buying and taking all those too!"

  13. Great info! I haven't done a post myself on supplements because the research is so contradictory, but I'll read some random thing or other, start taking something, and then forget why but keep taking it anyway. Right now, it's a multi, magnesium, calcium, D3, fish oil, and a B-50 complex--so it's good to be reminded of actual reasons some of these make sense!

    However, I am perhaps most intrigued by the rhyming horrid and forehead information. So did people used to pronounce forehead "forrid?" Or were they pronouncing horrid as "whorehead?"

  14. Interesting. I've taken EPO in the past, in hopes that it would help my eczema and I never noticed a sedative effect. Then again, I tend to feel tired most of the time anyway (I've always been that way, unfortunately). I take a calcium-magnesium tablet before bed, and I try to get one that contains vitamin D & Zinc, but I don't really know if one tablet is enough to do much.

    I don't take a B-Complex, though I know I should. At least my mother is always telling me I should. Perhaps I'll have to start an experiment of my own to see if it does anything for me.

  15. E, I understand and agree with your points, which is why I put up front that this experiment is totally unscientific. The plural of "anecdote" is sure as heck not "data", and I wouldn't want anybody thinking that my experience would be theirs. (Which is why, now that I think about it, I really should put a disclaimer up front. I'll do that in a second.)

    As for the placebo effect, hell yeah: I've watched it work both in myself and in patients I've had. Part or all of the response I've been getting may be placebo; at this point, since I'm unscientific, all I can do is shrug.

    I did some book-readin' and 'Net-surfin' and registered-dietician-grillin' before I ran out and bought everything, so I had a pretty good idea of what I might be lacking, dietwise. I also checked with my shrink and pharmacist to make sure the supplements I took wouldn't interfere with my Brain Drugs. (That should be included in the disclaimer, too.)

    Anyway, no, I don't think you're being a Debbie Downer. You're being the voice of reason. Thank you.

  16. Thanks for this, Jo. As a chronic insomniac, I'm going to add that Evening Primrose to my shopping list.

    I take a multi-vitamin (to cover bases), plus calcium/d, fish oil. I just started taking creatine before my workouts. Seems to help a lot -I can get through a tough workout without feeling so worn out.

    I also take zinc and magnesium before I go to bed. They work to increase the benefits of your natural HGH. And I find I sleep better when taking them.

    A B-50 formula with niacidamide instead of niacin will help with the flushing.

    Waiting a scheduled blood test next week, but I will likely be increasing my supplemented vitamin D. We can't get enough in our diet and most of us need 1.5 hours or more a day of sunlight (unlike what the magazines say). Even in Cali I don't usually get that much.

  17. Crabby, "forehead" was pronounced "forrid". Like "eye" and "me" were both said with a long "e" sound, and the "gh" in words like "daughter" was pronounced as an "f", so "daughter" became "dafter".

    Now you have learned something and can go back to bed.

  18. Primrose oil, huh? *hmmmmmm* Might try that. Hopefully it doesn't leave an aftertaste or odor like some supplements. Have you noticed any impact on your belly fat?

    I likey my B-Complex. However, I take it in the morning. Don't know if that's better, but it definitely gives me an energy boost. And my pee is glorious. Like liquid highlighter. Can't wait til it snows!

    I also take D3 (about 2K units) and a low dose aspirin. Thinking of adding vegan Omega 3 to the regimen.

  19. If you drink coffee don't take your supplements for at least 30 minutes before or after. Coffee is a diarhetic and doesn't allow for full vitamin/mineral absorption so it's best to take it without coffee.
    Trust me, I am a trainer ;)

  20. As long as it's doctor approved (and medication interaction negative) then I don't mind placebo effects - they're still effects :) But, I'm not into the suppliments as much. I'm just wary about side effects and what they could be doing in our bodies. Then again, I sometimes take medication without knowing. Go figure.

    You have quite a list there! I'm glad you posted about it - it gives a little more perspective to what each of them does! I may consider taking a few. I'm with you on the fish oils though Ick. I've heard that if you keep them in your fridge (where they should be) that it lessens the nasty burps!

  21. EPO makes you sleepy?! I would TOTALLY try that!

  22. Thanks for a fabulous post Jo! Such great info! I'll be sticking with my prenatal until the girl is done nursing. But I'm bookmarking this post for when that time comes. Then I'm going to seriously consider ditching the ge neric multi-vitamin and trying your approach.

    I do take a fish oil as well - they make "burp free" versions now. I find it also helps to take them after I've eaten breakfast. Less burps.

  23. I think that multi-vitamins are a good thing BUT if you are eating healthy I do not think they will make that big of a difference. One thing I have noticed from them is my hair and nails look better. I think that supplements have the placebo effect if you think they are working they are.

  24. I admit I don't hear people say "forehead" a lot, but it sounds more like "forrid" than "fore-head" to me. Maybe closer to "furrid", actually.

    Still taking the vitamin supplements recommended by a nutritionist I went to in 1979, after an allergy testing that meant major diet restrictions. The restrictions are much reduced these days, but I'm still taking the supplements. Especially the calcium!

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  25. I recently stumbled on your blog and thought it was kind of cool. A bit of a free-thinker. This pill craze, though...doesn't seem very cranky or cool (unless you're the company who sold you all this stuff). I don't buy any of it, and think it's all in your head.

  26. Well, kids, in many English-speaking places outside the US of A (such as down here in my part of Australia) "forehead" still does indeed rhyme with "horrid" - no past tense about it!

    Interesting on the EPO sleep thingy - will check into it further. Need sleeeeeep.....

  27. I Iove that name Debbie Downer! And I totally read and do everything everyone writes about online.

    I take tons of supplements. When someone said to me, "You have cancer," I thought, well, I didn't it from any supplements I was not taking at the time. So now I take a bunch of them. Before supplements, I was Debbie Downer AND Casey Cancer.

    Great that you are on WW. I love them too. I go for the comedic relief.

    And to the Crabster,
    That poem:
    There once was a girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead
    and when she was good, she was very very good, but when she was bad, she was whorehead.

    That's the correct pronunciation.
    I enjoyed this post and am going to get some EPO to go with my EVoo and the billions of other suppls. Im on. Love ya!

  28. The other supplement that works well for sleeplessness is xanax. And believe me, that is all in your head too!

  29. I'm terrible at remembering to take supplements. I should be taking Calcium and D and very rarely remember. I need one of those old lady daily pill reminders or something. The EPO sounds intriguing and sometime back, I did buy some but can't remember for the life of me why that was. Now I have an answer to that. I'm sleep deprived. Thanks for this post. Both Crabby and POD cracked me up with their use of "whorehead."

  30. Thanks for the thoughtful response, Jo! It's just been on my mind because I had to stop taking flaxseed oil recently because I was having surgery and my surgeon told me it thins your blood. Even after running my supplements by my doctor before, that surprised me, so I want to make sure people have a health professional verify that anything they might start taking regularly is safe!

  31. I'm not a big pill taker, just don't like doing it.

    But I do take some fish oil (Carlson lemon flavor), some glucosamine chondroitin w/MSM and I take a zinc/magnesium/B6 supplement at bed time. Helps me sleep well.

    I know the fish oil seems to help with the inflammation in my feet and arms. I feel it's better than taking mega doses of Aleve. The glucosamine... man, if I stop taking it, my bad right knee goes south quickly.

    I also take a regular old multi-vitamin. And sometimes drink a glass of water with greens powder in. Mostly though, I get my nutrients from food.

  32. I believe in supplements and eating healthy. I switched to an all organic diet three years and I have bever felt better

  33. Zinc oxide and carbonate are poorly absorbed by the body, FYI.

  34. Have you ever wondered how they get fish oil? I thought too much about that one day and switched to flaxseed oil! Seems to work just as well for me, plus I don't have the gross-out factor.


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