A Pennsylvania woman has warned of the potential harms of ‘natural’ supplements after she developed deadly liver damage within two months of taking a herbal capsule for menopause symptoms.
Dental insurance worker Amber Heimbach, 39, described her eyes and skin as ‘looking yellow like Marge Simpson’ – a recognized symptom of jaundice, which develops when the liver malfunctions.
Why Her Eyes Turned Yellow
Doctors treating the mom of four concluded that the life-threatening problem appeared to be the result of the black cohosh she’d been taking to combat hormone-related mood swings.
The herb, which is found in North American woodlands, has previously been the subject of health warnings from international government agencies – due to its ‘toxcity’ to the liver.
However, it is marketed as a ‘natural health remedy’ for menopausal symptoms, costing around $8-13 dollars for roughly 100 capsules.
When Her Ordeal Started
Ms Heimbach’s ordeal began in October last year, when she visited her primary care physician for help with pre-menopausal symptoms including mood swings and heavy bleeding.
She was offered prescription medication, but instead opted to go down the natural route, purchasing black cohosh from her local drug store.
The tablets successfully alleviated her symptoms for nearly two months before she began to feel unwell.
Her Ordeals in Full
Amber, from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said: ‘I know I’m approaching the age of pre-menopause and I was noticing a lot of different symptoms.
‘I was having heavy bleeding and emotional ups and downs. I could tell my hormones were out of balance.
Suggestion From Her Doctor
‘I went to my doctor and they suggested putting me on medication and birth control. I’m a pretty healthy person so didn’t feel ready to do that or go on any medication.
‘I wanted to go down the healthier route and see if there were any vitamins or supplements I could take to ease some of my side-effects.’
Ms Heimbach said she did ‘a bit of research’ and stumbled on black cohosh which ‘helps with stress and gives you an energy boost’, according to the advertisements she came across.
‘It was natural and over-the-counter so I presumed it would be fine.’
She Felt Better At First
Initially, Ms Heimbach noticed some improvement in her symptoms.
She said: ‘I had less mood swings, I was sleeping better and I had more energy. It was working well.’
However by mid-November she began experiencing stomach pains, which seemed to be getting worse and worse.
Her skin and eyes began ‘looking a bit yellow’, prompting her to visit the emergency room.
What is Jaundice?
A liver that is working poorly cannot get rid of bilirubin – a substance which, when release, triggers yellowing of the eyes and skin called jaundice.
Doctors performed tests and discovered tell-tale signs of an enlarged gallbladder, as well as rocketing levels of enzymes released when the liver is damaged.
She was rushed to urgent care and, a few days later, underwent a further barrage of tests to check for any underlying disease that may have caused her liver to fail.
Ms Heimbach said specialists explained there was a chance she may need a liver transplant.