[Pseudo-Cushing’s] Michigan woman nearly dies after herbal supplement found to be laced with steroids

MADISON HEIGHTS, Mich. (WXYZ) – Since 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received more than 26,000 reports of adverse events and complaints about dietary supplements.

Jody Higgins of Madison Heights, Michigan made one of those complaints to the FDA, after she says she found out the herbs she had been taking were making her seriously ill.

“I really thought I was going to die I was getting so sick,” Higgins said.

Back in 2015, Higgins says her legs started hurting.  She says she didn’t have great health insurance, and she was hoping for a more holistic approach, so a friend referred her to Far East Ginseng Herbs and Tea in nearby Sterling Heights.

“They suggested that I take something that was called Linsen Double Caulis. I had never heard of it before, and it appeared to have all herbs on the label,” Higgins said.

Higgins says for a while, she felt better, and when she stopped taking the Linsen Double Caulis, the leg pain returned. So, she says she kept taking it for nearly a year, even though she started noticing strange symptoms.

“Within four months I had gained 80 pounds,” she said.

She suddenly had facial hair growth, severe facial swelling, extremely swollen ankles, and had dark purple stretch marks all over her body.

“I wasn’t recognizable,” said Higgins.  “I couldn’t stand for longer than 2 minutes. I couldn’t cook. I couldn’t wash my clothing. I could barely get in the shower.”

After visiting several doctors, Higgins was eventually referred to University of Michigan Endocrinologist Dr. Ariel Barkan.

“The minute that I said I had been taking a Chinese herbal remedy, he said ‘you’ve been poisoned. I know it.’ Those were his exact words,” said Higgins.

“Her situation was pretty shaky,” Barkan said.

Barkan sent the Linsin Double Caulis herbal supplement to the Mayo Clinic for testing.

“They were loaded with Dexamethasone … [which] is a medication.  It’s a synthetic steroid, very potent, very long acting, and if we take it for quite some time, we develop what is called Cushing Syndrome,” said Dr. Barkan.

Higgins was diagnosed with Cushing Syndrome, and Barkan says she could have died if she hadn’t sought help.

“The mortality for untreated Cushing Syndrome is 50% within 5 years,” said Barkan.  “ … immunity is completely suppressed. And when you don’t have immunity, the first virus, the first germ may cause [a] fatal infection and you will die.”

Higgins says once she stopped taking the Linsen Double Caulis, the facial hair went away, but she’s still struggling with her weight. Barkan says her health should improve, although it will take time.

Both doctor and patient say they have contacted the FDA about this, and they each have a warning about taking herbal supplements.

“Please just be very cautious,” Higgins said.

“Don’t touch it. Don’t touch it, you’re playing Russian roulette,” said Barkan.

Jody Higgins says she met with an investigator from the FDA’s criminal division.

An FDA spokesperson would only say that they do not discuss possible or ongoing investigations.

The lawyer for the store where Higgins says she purchased the supplement told us the owners will not be commenting on, but the owner did say they no longer sell this product.

From http://www.fox4now.com/news/national/madison-heights-woman-herbal-supplement-caused-life-threatening-illness

High cortisol: Symptoms and signs

When we become stressed out bodies release cortisol – the stress hormone – which helps us cope with challenges. Cortisol’s role is to convert protein into energy by releasing glycogen and counteract inflammation. When cortisol is released in the body temporarily, this is okay and won’t have long-lasting detrimental effects to health as it is a natural response to a stressor. But when cortisol levels remain high chronically it can eventually begin to tear your body down thus causing health complications. This is why numerous health experts recommend the reduction of stress as much as possible because in the long run it can harm our health.

High cortisol levels over the long term can destroy healthy muscle and bone, slow down healing, impair digestion, metabolism and mental function, and weaken the immune system. Additionally, adrenal fatigue has been linked to numerous other health conditions including fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, premature menopause, and many others. High cortisol levels are also associated with many unwanted symptoms which we will outline below.

High cortisol symptoms

If you’re concerned about your cortisol levels, the following signs and symptoms associated with high cortisol levels can alert you and prompt you to make the necessary changes in order to reduce cortisol levels.

  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Skin symptoms including acne, skin infections, lesions, thin-appearing skin, bruising, growing facial hair, and reddish purple streaks on skin
  • Muscle and bone symptoms like a deep pain in the bones, weak muscles, chronic backaches, increased risk of bone fractures
  • Gender specific changes such as women developing male-pattern hair growth, irregular menstrual cycles, low libido, infertility
  • Neurological symptoms such as depression, irritability, headaches, chronic fatigue, and anxiety
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Poor sleep or lack of sleep
  • Swelling of hands and feet

If you notice any of the above symptoms, you may want to have your cortisol levels checked to confirm diagnosis. Living with high cortisol levels over the long term can have detrimental effects on a person’s health. Treating high cortisol as soon as possible can lower the risk of long-term health problems.

Causes of high cortisol

There are two main causes of high cortisol: Chronic stress and more rarely, Cushing’s disease. Cushing’s disease is caused by a hormone-secreting tumor on the adrenal gland which results in the release more cortisol than required.

Living with chronic stress also leads to high cortisol because the release of cortisol is a natural response from the body when it is stressed. The hypothalamic–pituitary-adrenal [HPA] axis is what regulates the timely release of cortisol during acute stress, but when stress becomes chronic the feedback from the HPA becomes damaged and so cortisol continues to be released.

Conditions that can contribute to chronic stress and high cortisol include:

  • Depression
  • Panic disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Alcoholism
  • Diabetes
  • Severe obesity
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Working in shifts
  • End-stage kidney disease
  • Chronic pain

Tips to lower high cortisol

Here are some tips that can help you lower your high cortisol levels and thus prevent long-term health problems associated with high cortisol. [MaryO’Note:  These will not work if you have active Cushing’s!    You must remove  the source of your Cushing’s first.]

  • Eat a well balanced meal with plenty of fruits and vegetables, avoid sugars, consume low glycemic index foods, avoid processed foods, eat a wide variety of health foods to ensure you receive all essential vitamins and nutrients
  • Exercise on a regular basis
  • Take time out of each day to relax – listen to music, meditate, pray, perform your favorite hobby, anything that promotes relaxation
  • Take up yoga or tai chi
  • Ensure you are getting adequate sleep
  • Drink tea
  • Watch funny videos or hang out with a funny friend
  • Go for a massage
  • Do something spiritual – attend a service
  • Chew gum
  • Limit caffeine intake
  • Stretch

By incorporating these helpful tips into your life you will find that your high cortisol symptoms begin to diminish and your overall health begins to improve.

From http://www.belmarrahealth.com/high-cortisol-symptoms-signs-look/


Cushing’s Syndrome and Skin Problems

By Afsaneh Khetrapal, BSc (Hons)

Cushing’s Syndrome (sometimes called hypercortisolism) is a hormonal disease caused by an abnormally high level of the hormone cortisol in the body. This may arise because of an endogenous or exogenous source of cortisol. Endogenous causes include the elevated production of cortisol by the adrenal glands, while exogenous causes include the excessive use of cortisol or other similar steroid (glucocorticoid) hormones over a prolonged period of time.

The adrenal glands are situated just above each kidney, and form part of the endocrine system. They have numerous functions such as the production of hormones called catecholamines, which includes epinephrine and norepinephrine. Interestingly, the outer layer (cortex) of the adrenal glands has the distinct responsibility of producing cortisol. This hormone is best known for its crucial role in the bodily response to stress.

At physiologically appropriate levels, cortisol is vital in maintaining normal sleep-wake cycles, and acts to increase blood sugar levels. It suppresses the immune system, regulates the effect of insulin on the metabolism of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, and help with the homeostasis of water in the body.

Exogenous corticosteroids can also lead to Cushing’s syndrome, when they are used as a form of long-term treatment for various medical conditions. In fact, the long-term use of steroid medication is the most common reason for the development of Cushing’s syndrome.

Prednisolone is the most commonly prescribed steroid medicine. It belongs to a class of medicine that is sometimes used to treat conditions such as certain forms of arthritis and cancer. Other uses include the rapid and effective reduction of inflammation in conditions such as asthma and multiple sclerosis (MS), as well as the treatment of autoimmune conditions such as lupus erythematosus, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Overall, Cushing’s syndrome is quite uncommon and affects approximately 1 in 50,000 people. Most of them are adults between the ages of 20 and 50.  Women are 3 times more commonly affected than men. Additionally, patients who are obese, or those who have type 2 diabetes with poorly controlled blood sugar and blood pressure show a greater predisposition to the disorder.

Symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome

There are numerous symptoms associated with Cushing’s syndrome, which range from muscle weakness, hypertension, curvature of the spine (kyphosis), osteoporosis, and depression, to fatigue Specific symptoms which pertain to the skin are as follows:

  • Thinning of the skin and other mucous membranes: the skin becomes dry and bruises easily. Cortisol causes the breakdown of some dermal proteins along with the weakening of small blood vessels. In fact, the skin may become so weak as to develop a shiny, paper-thin quality which allows it to be torn easily.
  • Increased susceptibility of skin to infections
  • Poor wound healing  of bruises, cuts, and scratches
  • Spots appear on the upper body, that is, on the face, chest or shoulders
  • Darkened skin which is seen on the neck
  • Wide, red-purple streaks (at least half an inch wide) called striae which are most common on the sides of the torso, the lower abdomen, thighs, buttocks, arms, and breasts, or in areas of weight gain. The accumulation of fat caused by Cushing’s syndrome stretches the skin which is already thin and weakened due to cortisol action, causing it to hemorrhage and stretch permanently, healing by fibrosis.
  • Acne: this can develop in patients of all ages.
  • Swollen ankles: this is caused by the accumulation of fluid, called edema.
  • Hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating)

Reviewed by Dr Liji Thomas, MD

From http://www.news-medical.net/health/Cushings-Syndrome-and-Skin-Problems.aspx

Think Like a Doctor: Red Herrings Solved!


On Thursday we challenged Well readers to take the case of a 29-year-old woman with an injured groin, a swollen foot and other abnormalities. Many of you found it as challenging as the doctors who saw her. I asked for the right test as well as the right diagnosis. More than 200 answers were posted.

The right test was…

The dexamethasone suppression test,though I counted those of you who suggested measuring the cortisol in the urine.

The right diagnosis was…

Cushing’s disease

More than a dozen of you got the right answer or the right test, but Dr. Davin Quinn, a consultant psychiatrist at the University of New Mexico Hospital, was the first to be right on both counts. As soon as he saw that the patient’s cortisol level was increased, he thought of Cushing’s. And he had treated a young patient like this one some years ago as a second year resident.

The Diagnosis:

Cushing’s disease is caused by having too much of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. Cortisol is made in the adrenal glands, little pyramid shaped organs that sit atop the kidneys. It is normally a very tightly regulated hormone that helps the body respond to physical stress.

Sometimes the excess comes from a tumor in the adrenal gland itself that causes the little organ to go into overdrive, making too much cortisol. More often the excess occurs when a tumor in the pituitary gland in the brain results in too much ACTH, the hormone that controls the adrenal gland.

In the body, cortisol’s most fundamental job is to make sure we have enough glucose around to get the body’s work done. To that end, the hormone drives appetite, so that enough fuel is taken in through the food we eat. When needed, it can break muscle down into glucose. This essential function accounts for the most common symptoms of cortisol excess: hyperglycemia, weight gain and muscle wasting. However, cortisol has many functions in the body, and so an excess of the hormone can manifest itself in many different ways.

Cushing’s was first described by Dr. Harvey Cushing, a surgeon often considered the father of modern neurosurgery. In a case report in 1912, he described a 23-year-old woman with sudden weight gain, mostly in the abdomen; stretch marks from skin too thin and delicate to accommodate the excess girth; easy bruising; high blood pressure and diabetes.

Dr. Cushing’s case was, it turns out, a classic presentation of the illness. It wasn’t until 20 years later that he recognized that the disease had two forms. When it is a primary problem of an adrenal gland gone wild and producing too much cortisol on its own, the disease is known as Cushing’s syndrome. When the problem results from an overgrown part of the pituitary making too much ACTH and causing the completely normal adrenal glands to overproduce the hormone, the illness is called Cushing’s disease.

It was an important distinction, since the treatment often requires a surgical resection of the body part where the problem originates. Cushing’s syndrome can also be caused by steroid-containing medications, which are frequently used to treat certain pulmonary and autoimmune diseases.

How the Diagnosis Was Made:

After the young woman got her lab results from Dr. Becky Miller, the hematologist she had been referred to after seeing several other specialists, the patient started reading up on the abnormalities that had been found. And based on what she found on the Internet, she had an idea of what was going on with her body.

“I think I have Cushing’s disease,” the patient told her endocrinologist when she saw him again a few weeks later.

The patient laid out her argument. In Cushing’s, the body puts out too much cortisol, one of the fight-or-flight stress hormones. That would explain her high blood pressure. Just about everyone with Cushing’s disease has high blood pressure.

She had other symptoms of Cushing’s, too. She bruised easily. And she’d been waking up crazy early in the morning for the past year or so – around 4:30 – and couldn’t get back to sleep. She’d heard that too much cortisol could cause that as well. She was losing muscle mass – she used to have well-defined muscles in her thighs and calves. Not any more. Her belly – it wasn’t huge, but it was a lot bigger than it had been. Cushing’s seemed the obvious diagnosis.

The doctor was skeptical. He had seen Cushing’s before, and this patient didn’t match the typical pattern. She was the right age for Cushing’s and she had high blood pressure, but nothing else seemed to fit. She wasn’t obese. Indeed, she was tall (5- foot-10) and slim (150 pounds) and athletic looking. She didn’t have stretch marks; she didn’t have diabetes. She said she bruised easily, but the endocrinologist saw no bruises on exam. Her ankle was still swollen, and Cushing’s can do that, but so can lots of other diseases.

The blood tests that Dr. Miller ordered measuring the patient’s ACTH and cortisol levels were suggestive of the disease, but many common problems — depression, alcohol use, eating disorders — can cause the same result. Still, it was worth taking the next step: a dexamethasone suppression test.

Testing, Then Treatment:

The dexamethasone suppression test depends on a natural negative feedback loop whereby high levels of cortisol suppress further secretion of the hormone. Dexamethasone is an artificial form of cortisol. Given in high doses, it will cause the level of naturally-occurring cortisol to drop dramatically.

The patient was told to take the dexamethasone pills the night before having her blood tested. The doctor called her the next day.

“Are you sure you took the pills I gave you last night?” the endocrinologist asked her over the phone. The doctor’s voice sounded a little sharp to the young woman, tinged with a hint of accusation.

“Of course I took them,” she responded, trying to keep her voice clear of any irritation.

“Well, the results are crazy,” he told her and proposed she take another test: a 24-hour urine test.

Because cortisol is eliminated through the kidneys, collecting a full day’s urine would show how much cortisol her body was making. So the patient carefully collected a day’s worth of urine.

A few days later, the endocrinologist called again: her cortisol level was shockingly high. She was right, the doctor conceded, she really did have Cushing’s.

An M.R.I. scan revealed a tiny tumor on her pituitary. A couple of months later, she had surgery to remove the affected part of the gland.

After recovering from the surgery, the patient’s blood pressure returned to normal, as did her red blood cell count and her persistently swollen ankle. And she was able to once again sleep through the night.

Red Herrings Everywhere:

As many readers noted, there were lots of findings that didn’t really add up in this case. Was this woman’s groin sprain part of the Cushing’s? What about the lower extremity swelling, and the excess red blood cell count?

In the medical literature, there is a single case report of high red blood cell counts as the presenting symptom in a patient with Cushing’s. And with this patient, the problem resolved after her surgery – so maybe they were linked.

And what about the weird bone marrow biopsy? The gastritis? The enlarged spleen? It’s hard to say for certain if any of these problems was a result of the excess cortisol or if she just happened to have other medical problems.

Why the patient didn’t have the typical symptoms of Cushing’s is easier to explain. She was very early in the course of the disease when she got her diagnosis. Most patients are diagnosed once symptoms have become more prominent

By the time this patient had her surgery, a couple of months later, the round face and belly characteristic of cortisol excess were present. Now, two years after her surgery, none of the symptoms remain.

From http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/17/think-like-a-doctor-red-herrings-solved/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

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