Monday, August 15, 2011

Potassium, the wonder-drug

I took potassium the other day. I have hesitated because when I talked to my doctor, she said she puts people into the hospital on a regular, almost weekly, basis for potassium overdose.  It is necessary for proper nerve function, but is also deadly if taken in high enough doses, especially if you have heart disease.

You can see why I stalled.

But the other day I was frustrated, frazzled, and angry. I had eaten sugar, and that almost always leads me to lose my mind and my temper (even though I love sugar).  I didn't want to yell at my kids because I had made a poor dietary choice, so I just took 2 potassium pills. Just two. Some people take up to six at a time.

Within ten minutes, an amazing thing happened.

Hard to describe, though.

It was like I had been able to see the light bouncing off in all directions, and suddenly I couldn't.  Like my senses were in overdrive, and they suddenly calmed down.  Like the world was a movie that had gone from being cut together from film taken at different angles into being shot with a single shot on a steady camera.

All my life, I've seen shadows skittering around in my peripheral view, like I just missed a mouse running by. All my life, every time I've closed my eyes, I could still see, etched inside my eyelids, the entire scene I'd just been looking at, rendered in light; and when my eyes were open, I see visual echoes of the thing I was just looking at when I look elsewhere. It makes for a lot of subtle, visual "noise" all the time all around.  It's really difficult to describe--almost like I can't see the light bouncing off the objects in all directions, but my eyes are aware of it anyway. Actively aware, not just passively.

When I eat sugar or breads (carbs), it gets much worse. MUCH worse.

And I became aware of it when I took the potassium because it went away. Just like if you always had listened to music on a record player, you wouldn't be aware of the scratches and residual noises that were playing along with the music--that record-player noise of needle on vinyl--until you heard the music on a CD. Suddenly, you'd be aware of the extra sounds. That's how it was for me when I took the potassium. Suddenly I was aware of visual and auditory "noise" that had been there all my life, so I didn't know it was abnormal. (I mean, really, who ever questions how you SEE the world and if that's normal?). I imagine the tactile senses were all calmed down, too, but I was so amazed at the visual sensations--that the world could be so calm and visually quiet--that I didn't bother to notice anything else.

It's so much easier to think when your brain isn't trying to process a million extra stimuli all the time. And that's without changing the children at all--they were still going everywhere, running and playing.

This is the third instance I've discovered that Potassium helped me. The first was when I needed moles removed, and the novicaine worked for once--after I took potassium. The second was when I discovered that exercising doesn't have to shut your brain off so you can't learn anything, and that it can be pleasurable--after I took potassium.  And now this.

I think that makes it fairly definitive. I have hypokalemic sensory overstimulation--a rare, hereditary metabolic disorder that, under certain conditions, causes your cells to suck up all the available potassium, so you're running at a severe deficit. The result is your nerves and senses all go into overdrive, sending way too much information to your brain. In practical terms, this means you cannot learn, you get grouchy and flustered, you're easily overwhelmed. Sometimes you experience temporary partial paralysis (my hand stops working for about 3-5 minutes), but this is a better-known disability called hypokalemic partial paralysis. Oh, yeah--novicaine doesn't work.

What are the triggers?

Sugar. Big time. In fact, my dad and I both find we just "need" a milkshake before bed--perhaps to shut our brains down on purpose so we can sleep?

Salt, apparently. I need to pay attention to this one in my life, but I have found I don't seek out salty foods (I never crave potato chips, for example, and never add extra salt to french fries), and I consistently add too little salt to food I cook.

Exercise, especially interrupted exercise (like jogging and then having to stop to wait for a light to change; or dance classes, where you dance and then stop for instructions and then dance again). I've found over the years that I love dance, love dance classes, and half way through every dance class my brain shuts off and I cannot any longer comprehend what the teacher is asking me to do or how to do the dances, suddenly I'm clumsy and flustered and emotional and I usually walk out because I can't function any more because I'm overwhelmed, angry, and my usually agile brain is just gone. (Potassium cures this!).

Obviously, because of the dangers, I wouldn't advocate trying potassium supplements on everyone. Luckily, there's a test for the disorder--if you go to the dentist, and the novicaine works on you, you don't need extra potassium. If the novicaine NEVER works, you might try it and see what happens. Unless you have heart disease. I mean, seriously--keep your doctor in the loop on this one.

But it is worth looking into--the disorder mimics ADHD, and apparently some people who have been diagnosed with ADHD but don't respond well to the medications benefit from Potassium supplementation. My dad, who has ADD, says potassium taken in conjunction with his ritalin clears his brain right up. And my son who always hated exercising (because it always made him angry or made him cry about half way through) likes it just fine if he's had potassium first.

Worth looking into.

Because who doesn't like a cheap, easy fix for what ails them?

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