Years of Pain, Fatigue, and Weird Symptoms
I have had chronic fatigue syndrome, excessive Non-REM (NREM) dreaming, mood issues and muscle pain 24/7 for as long as I can remember. I have been to more than 100 health practitioners of various flavors, from the conventional doctors and specialists, to herbalists, energy medicine doctors, hypnotists and acupuncturists as well as taking pretty much every test available. Most tests were frustratingly normal. I had deficiencies in iron and B12 at various times but that came right after being diagnosed with Celiac Disease and starting a strictly gluten free diet.
Still, the fatigue and 24/7 pain persisted, and with the start of menopause, new symptoms emerged. I experienced periods of vertigo, brain fog, unexplained cold sensations in my chest, and after taking bioidentical progesterone for a few days I experienced daily dizziness and eventually got diagnosed with postural hypotension when the cardiologist measured a drop in systolic blood pressure of more than 30 upon standing. This daily dizziness continued for more than three years.
I tried all of the usual dietary interventions as well as the low oxalate diet, the anti-candida diet, the Failsafe diet and other elimination diets. All failed to make a dent in symptoms. The only time I noticed an improvement was when, after several bouts of gastroenteritis, I was forced to subsist on dry gluten free bread, a whey protein based meal substitute drink and skinless chicken. People commented that my skin looked good and I had improved energy, however, over time I returned to my normal diet and the benefits gradually disappeared.
Resolving the Dizziness, Brain Fog, Dysautonomia / POTS with B Vitamins and Diet
For more than three years, I have had daily dizziness pretty much all day as a symptom of dysautonomia/postural hypotension. An OAT test showed low thiamine and I had high hopes that thiamine would be the magic ticket that would get me out of dizzy brain fog hell. Thiamine and a reduced sugar diet did help a lot with energy, mood and general well-being, but unfortunately the reductions in postural hypotension were minor.
I experimented with supplements and lifestyle changes. I increased my meditation time, and did gratitude journaling and worked on taking in the good and rewiring my brain. This helped me better manage the stress of chronic illness and reduced some of my symptoms of depression and agitation.
I also found improvements in taking thiamine and riboflavin (B2) 3-4x a day along with high doses of the other B vitamins once a day. But, again the daily dizziness and brain fog persisted.
My big breakthrough came when I discovered that I had been taking the wrong form of niacin. I had been taking niacin and inositol hexanicotinate for the last three years, but it wasn’t until I returned to taking niacinamide that the symptoms dysautonomia dialed down. I started with a 50mg dose and by the end of the day I noticed that I had been less dizzy. I gradually increased the dose to the full 500mg and the symptoms kept reducing. I also got my brain back! No longer was I feeling constantly brain fogged, sluggish and mentally confused. Now that the niacinamide had my blood circulating properly and fueled my biochemistry things started working. My thyroid numbers had always been on the cusp of hyperthyroidism, yet I had a sluggish metabolism. Within a week, I noticed that with no other dietary changes my post-menopausal muffin top had reduced, my energy increased, and my skin was looking better.
The Missing Pieces: HACL1 and Phytanic Acid
I had high hopes that I would be able to completely eliminate the symptoms of dysautonomia, however, there is still some lingering dizziness. Over the last few weeks, I have been experimenting and have noticed two interesting associations.
The first, is sugar intake. Additional fruit or anything high in sugar increases my symptoms of postural hypotension. This could be linked to thiamine or niacin.
The second, is a reaction to foods high in phytanic acid. I first learned about the HACL1 gene from the Hormones Matter blog and I quickly realized that this made sense of the fact that I reacted to both A1 and A2 cheeses and yogurts as well as butter, but am fine on whey protein. I also react to oily fish and red meats but I am fine with pork and chicken. I live in New Zealand where all of our lamb and beef are grass fed, so all of our dairy products and red meat are higher in phytanic acid than the same products from grain fed animals.
In the past, I had noticed that any of these foods that are high in phytanic acid trigger feelings of rage and anger. There seems to be a threshold, so I can do an elimination diet and reintroduce butter and be fine, but over time, I believe that they phytanic acid accumulates and then the symptoms appear. Once I reach the threshold, I “hulk out” within minutes of eating beef, lamb, fat containing dairy products and oily fish. I have also had similar reactions in the past when I ate sugar or drank alcohol. I had in the past noticed that my dysautonomia was worse with all of these things. It would appear that thiamine is required to process all of these things, either directly in the case of sugar and alcohol or through the HACL1 gene for the other foods. This suggests that my body struggles to maintain thiamine levels and get the thiamine to where it is needed.
|HACL1 rs17485390 (C)||TT|
|HACL1 rs6784844 (T)||CT|
|HACL1 rs6797119 (T)||CT|
|HACL1 rs7648958 (A)||AG|
Feeling confident after increasing my niacinamide to 1,000mg spaced throughout the day, I reintroduced foods high in phytanic acid and the dizziness increased fairly quickly. I am now sticking to a low phytanic acid with only occasional red meat, fish or butter. (Yogurt and cheese are gone for good and maybe the other foods will need to be completely eliminated too.)
I found an old test that showed that my urinary l-lysine was low. After more research, I discovered that lysine helps maintain tryptophan activity and reduces the draw on niacin in the body. My tryptophan levels were normal on both urinary and blood tests but perhaps a lysine deficiency was indirectly affecting my niacin levels. After an initial dose of lysine I felt almost euphoric. This effect quickly leveled off. I am wondering if, after decades of fatigue, my body likes homeostasis and is counteracting the effects of nutrients that I clearly need. This has happened in the past with medications. After a few doses, they are basically rendered useless. This applies to antihistamines, psychotropics, painkillers, and so on.
Possible Secondary Pellagra
Is it possible that I have secondary pellagra? I initially dismissed the idea of pellagra as the symptoms seemed more severe than mine. My dermatitis was minor compared to the pictures online, I had an explanation for the dizziness (diagnosis of dysautonomia), the diarrhea has been an issue on and off, so it didn’t seem significant, and my mental confusion didn’t seem enough to qualify as dementia and yet I can now see that I did have the 3 Ds of pellagra despite adequate niacin intake. I don’t eat corn and rarely eat grains and have a diet high in niacin but I had many of the symptoms of pellagra including sensitivity to light, dermatitis, diarrhea, dizziness, feeling cold all the time, brain fog and mental confusion, difficulty falling asleep and weakness.
Interestingly, some of these symptoms overlap with thiamine deficiency symptoms and I feel very sure that I have had severe thiamine deficiency because I have also had tingling sensations and muscle pain, as well as a history of high intake of sugar, carbs and alcohol and a very positive response to thiamine and benfotiamine.
Going Forward: More Questions
My plan is to continue with my supplements and a low sugar diet and low phytanic acid foods. I am hopeful that this will completely eliminate the dysautonomia and leave me free to work on my other symptoms. My brain function is good when the dizziness is kept at bay and I feel more optimistic and happy and have a small but noticeable uptick in energy and strength.
Although I have made huge strides in my health, I am left with some lingering questions:
- I have been on high doses of many B vitamins for years and yet it seems that my body still craves them. Could years of undiagnosed Celiac Disease have affected the enzymes that take vitamins and converts them to the active form and transports them into organs and tissues? Is it realistic for this to still be happening after eight years of being gluten free?
- The literature glosses over the conversion from niacin to niacinamide as something that the body can easily do, however, I have taken high doses of niacin and inositol hexanicotinate without benefit and eat a diet rich in niacin foods without getting the benefits that I got from small doses of niacinamide. Is it possible that some people have challenges converting niacin to niacinamide? I have yet to find any research to support this other than a study suggesting that niacinamide is twice as effective as niacin. However, I was taking triple the dose of niacin with no benefits. I believe that my body is inefficient at converting niacin to niacinamide. If anyone knows of a specific illness that may cause this I would be interested in learning more.
- Is my reaction to phytanic acid foods due to a deficiency in thiamine (despite taking very large doses for years) or is there another reason that my body appears not to tolerate phytanic acid foods?
- Are there still more vitamin or amino deficiencies that I am yet to discover? In the future I will probably do another OAT or Nutreval to see whether my levels have improved but for now I want to let my body get used to the lower phytanic acid levels and see if things settle.
- My body seems to like homeostasis. For the first couple of days that I took niacinamide I noticed that I felt very warm, but I have returned to feeling cold all of the time. The dizziness has improved and it had almost disappeared but then crept back in. Could this be due to more vitamin or amino deficiencies that I am yet to discover, problems with my enzymes or is there some sort of ANS wiring issue that is better addressed by neural retraining?
- Sleep is another big issue for me and until I consistently sleep well without excessive NREM dreaming it is possible that these other issues will not fully resolve, but progress is exciting and I am hopeful that the last puzzle pieces will fall into place.
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