A Pennsylvania woman warned about the potential harms of “natural” supplements after she developed fatal liver damage two months after taking an herbal capsule for menopause symptoms.
Dental insurance worker Amber Heimbach, 39, described her eyes and skin as “yellow like Marge Simpson”, a recognized symptom of jaundice, which develops when the liver does not function properly.
Doctors who treated the mother of four concluded that the life-threatening problem appeared to be a result of the black cohosh she had been taking to combat hormone-related mood swings.
The herb, found in the forests of North America, has been the subject of health warnings from international government agencies, due to its “toxicity” to the liver.
The 39-year-old mother of four developed yellowish skin and eyes two months after she started taking an herbal supplement to combat menopause symptoms.
British government agencies have issued warnings about the supplement taken by Amber Heimbach, due to its “toxic” effect on the liver.
However, it is marketed as a “natural health remedy” for menopausal symptoms and costs between $8 and $13 for approximately 100 capsules.
Ms. Heimbach’s ordeal began in October of last year, when she visited her primary care doctor for help with premenopausal symptoms, including mood swings and heavy bleeding.
He was offered prescription medications, but chose to go the natural route and purchased black cohosh from your local pharmacy.
He The tablets successfully relieved his symptoms for almost two months before he started to feel unwell.
Amber, from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said, “I know I’m approaching premenopause age and I’ve noticed a lot of different symptoms.”
‘I was bleeding a lot and having emotional ups and downs. I realized that my hormones were out of balance.
Before taking the supplement, Amber Heimbach was a “healthy” woman who rarely visited her doctor.
Yellowish skin and eyes are characteristics of jaundice, which occurs when the liver stops working properly.
‘I went to my doctor and they suggested that he prescribe me medication and contraceptives. I’m a pretty healthy person, so I didn’t feel ready to do that or take any medication.
“I wanted to go the healthier route and see if there were any vitamins or supplements I could take to alleviate some of my side effects.”
Ms. Heimbach said she did “a little bit of research” and found black cohosh that “helps with stress and gives you a boost of energy,” according to ads she found.
“It was natural and over-the-counter, so I figured it would be fine.”
At first, Mrs. Heimbach noticed some improvement in her symptoms.
She said: ‘I had fewer mood swings, slept better and had more energy. She was functioning well.’
However, in mid-November he began to experience stomach pains, which seemed to get worse and worse.
Her skin and eyes began to “look a little yellow,” prompting her to visit the emergency room.
A poorly functioning liver cannot eliminate bilirubin, a substance that, when released, causes a yellowing of the eyes and skin called jaundice.
Doctors ran tests and discovered telltale signs of an enlarged gallbladder, as well as skyrocketing levels of enzymes released when the liver is damaged.
She was rushed to urgent care and, a few days later, underwent a new series of tests to look for any underlying illness that may have caused her liver to fail.
Mrs. Heimbach said specialists explained to her that there was a possibility she would need a liver transplant.
Black cohosh, found in the forests of North America, is sold under the guise of a “natural” menopause support product.
“They were trying to figure out what was happening to me. There were a lot of conversations about getting a liver transplant and also about keeping an eye on my gallbladder.
‘They were more worried that my liver was leaking into my gallbladder.
A 2016 report from the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said there has been growing concern around the world about the risk of adverse liver effects associated with the use of black cohosh.
The government agency recommended that warnings about rare adverse reactions be added to black cohosh products.
“I kept thinking ‘what’s happening to me?'” Mrs. Heimbach said. ‘I am a very healthy person, I never go to the hospital, I go to the doctor once every five years.
‘It was scaring me. I was afraid of being away from my family and having to go through a liver transplant and whether my body would accept it.’
She informed her doctors about the natural supplement she had been taking for the past 50 days that she believed may have caused her unusual symptoms.
‘They were pretty sure that black cohosh was causing all these problems. All the other tests they were doing on him came back negative.’
A 2020 study published in the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM) stated that products labeled as black cohosh have been implicated in many cases of liver injury.
Fortunately, Mrs. Heimbach received intensive treatment and was subsequently discharged from the hospital, as her enzyme levels gradually returned to normal.
But his eyes and skin have yet to completely lose their yellow tint, much to the amusement of his family.
‘The big joke was that I looked like the highlighter of the family. Some family members said, “Why don’t you put on a blue wig? You could be Marge Simpson,” she said.
‘They were very loving and tried to help me get through it. If you lower my eyelid, you can still see some yellowness, but without doing so, you won’t be able to see it anymore.
‘I feel so blessed to not need a transplant. For any woman considering taking supplements, do your research and consult with her doctor.
“I’ll never touch it again in my life.”