Monday, June 11, 2012

Getting Too Much of a Good Thing: Supplements

I think I've finally broken the spell of my latest IBS flare-up!  I was headed down one path, but switched gears when I thought of the second path - the one that just might be the answer.  Let me explain...

As you may know, despite a welcome increase in energy and function, my belly has been all about IBS for the past month.  I got tired of waiting for this flare to calm down, since it's been causing me problems every single day for all this time (even through my recent vacation in New Orleans) so I finally broke down and ordered an herbal remedy.  It's called Iberogast.

My niece recommended this product to me after our great GI doctor (she also recommended him to me and he's great) recommended it to her.  I thought I'd give it a shot and see if it changes anything.

When my husband saw how much alcohol is in it (31%), he joked that it would be cheaper for me to use Jägermeister instead.  I scoffed until I started wondering what kind of ingredients are in "Jäger" and did some research. 

There are 56 ingredients in Jägermeister (vs. the nine herbs in Iberogast) and many of them are a secret, but considering both Jäger and Iberogast are from both Germany, and have both been touted as effective digestive aids, I have to wonder if both might be equally effective.

Anyway, Iberogast comes in a small, glass bottle with a top that releases the fluid in drops, so you can count them for appropriate dosing.  Adult dosage is 20 drops into a drink with each meal, as needed.  I took this with five total meals during just a couple days, with no change in my symptoms, before I stopped using it.  I had intended on giving it at least a full week's trial before determining anything about its efficacy, but before the second day was through, I got an idea about what might really be causing my symptoms, so I switched gears to find out.

My hunch was that perhaps my body was trying to rid itself of excess vitamins and minerals.  Too many nutrients?!  It seemed crazy, but the more I learned about fat-soluble vitamins and digging into my Calorie Count food log history and nutrition analysis, the more plausible this seemed to me. 

I'd been taking a lot of supplements every day for a while now, some per my previous doctor's recommendation, some per my own conclusions about what I need:
  • multi-vitamin (includes iron)
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin D3
  • super B-complex
  • magnesium malate (twice a day)
  • calcium
  • fish oil
  • probiotic

Several weeks back, I started eating more nutritious lunches during the work week and eventually decided to get my lunch from the nearby Whole Foods Market every workday that I could.   I loved getting delicious, nutritious food every day and not having to worry about dinner or weekends as much.  It worked out great, I thought.

I checked the analysis tool in my Calorie Count food logs (good thing I had this handy) and saw that many of the nutrients tracked were well over 100% for the day for me, on average.  Vitamin C was ridiculously high (>1200% average per day).  Vitamin A was very high (>300%).  Calcium was high (~150%).  I was even getting more iron than I needed (~200%).  Who gets that much nutrition in a day?!  Well, me, I guess.  I don't even know how much vitamin D, vitamin B, or magnesium I was getting.  Those nutrients aren't even tracked in CC, but since I was adding these supplements to my nutrient-rich diet, I wouldn't be surprised if they were crazy high, too. 

So, reading up on vitamins and nutrients. I learned that some vitamins, like vitamin C and vitamin B are water-soluble, so getting more than enough is no big deal - the kidneys flush them out and you flush them down when you go pee.  (What a way to waste vitamin C!)  But other vitamins, like vitamin A and vitamin D, are not water-soluble, and the body can get too much of them.  I also know that magnesium is an ingredient in epsom salt and other laxatives.  So I wondered if all these supplements, or even just one of them, could be causing my body these daily diarrhea episodes.  To find out, I was going to skip just the magnesium, but I decided to stop taking ALL of my supplements, just to see if anything changes.

I stopped taking them last Thursday and haven't taken any since.  By Sunday, I noticed a change: no poopie all day!  I was hopeful that this meant the end of the diarrhea, or at least a break from it.  I still experienced a crampy few minutes this morning, after breakfast, but later today, I actually had a regular movement.  I was so glad I wanted to tell people at work about it and celebrate... but of course I didn't.

Nothing's for sure, of course, but these are positive signs that I'm on the right track with this vitamin thing.  For now, I'm glad I was able to put this together and elicit a positive change myself.  I will wait and see if I continue to get relief by avoiding vitamins I apparently don't need, thanks to my healthier diet.  I guess the takeaway here is that you actually can get the nutrients you need from food and you can get too much of some nutrients.  Pay attention to what you're eating and if you have a mysterious IBS flare while eating healthy foods, consider quitting the supplements to see if it helps.  If not, there's always plan B, whatever it may be for you.