Question 1: Is it true that some health/vitamin supplements can actually have steroids and do not disclose them on the ingredients? How in the world is that possible?
Answer 1: YES! I, Suhein Beck, the author can personally attest to being a victim of this exact scenario myself. Oh the irony, right? I know. Almost silly. And it happened smack-dab in the middle of my 10-year research of steroids and I found myself accidentally addicted and debilitated from them.
Question 2: Did you actually have to go through steroid withdrawal?
Answer 2: YES! In looking back, I am grateful that I experienced the parallel universe to my topical steroid withdrawal community of friends so that I can more fully appreciate the symptoms, the process of weaning off steroids and of course, the emotional resentment of being tricked into taking them unknowingly! Here is my crazy story:
Long before writing a book about TOPICAL STEROID SIDE EFFECTS, I had been on a personal mission to raise global awareness about the side effects of steroids for 10 years. I am not exaggerating when I say I’ve been shamelessly singing and dancing about this topic in front of strangers, friends and family, in person, and all over Facebook, YouTube! I even produced a music video with the same name as this book.
“The incredible irony is that I had no idea I was taking steroids and had become addicted while I was preaching about them on my soapbox!”
It all started while I was working at the street fair in Palm Desert, California selling my ELAJ skincare products. Due to the nature of the very physical work that entailed setting up and taking down tents, tables and a virtual store every Saturday and Sunday in extreme weather conditions from 29 degrees to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, our bodies take a beating in that tough entrepreneurial lifestyle.
That’s where I began hearing about this natural herbal supplement from Mexico called, Reumofan. It started with Nina, who mentioned it to Cathie, who ran it by me because of my rudimentary knowledge of Spanish. I carefully reviewed, translated, and approved the ingredients that included glucosamine and curcumin, a natural anti-inflammatory herb from turmeric root along with ginger root and other well-known immune boosters. I reported back to my friends that it seemed to be ok, so we all started taking the supplement.
Within days, the creaking knees, squeaking hips, shoulders, and my own painful carpal tunnel syndrome all quieted down and we were all amazed at how easy this miraculous Reumofan was to our stomachs and eliminated the need for dangerous pain-killers and other NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs). We were thrilled, to say the least! We couldn’t believe how all of us had experienced such great results so quickly.
I started to make more frequent trips to Mexico to purchase more for myself, husband, mother, extended family as well as other vendors. Word spread fast. Without exception, we were all enjoying the benefits. Not one of us had any suspicion there could be any hidden, undisclosed ingredients. I should have known better. I was the one researching steroids and yet, here there they were, literally right under my nose! I was warning customers about steroidal side effects every day, yet it never occurred to me that I was smack-dab in the middle of my own steroid crisis in the making…
A year later, my mother noticed I was pulling over and taking power naps in my car more frequently. I was huffing and puffing just walking up the stairs at home. My pulse was racing and I would get dizzy. I was insatiably hungry and thirsty all the time. I was waking up 5-7 x per night to go to the bathroom which completely disrupted my sleep. I’ve always been able to keep my weight steady, but suddenly gained an extra 15-20 lbs. My front hairline was thinning before my eyes! I started feeling my blood sugar spiking and blood pressure dropping. I had extreme brain fog. My kids were worried that I couldn’t remember recent conversations with them. My husband was frustrated that I was too tired to enjoy intimate relations. The list goes on… I wrote it all off as pre-menopausal symptoms.
Then one day, Nina told Cathie who came back to me and said something about the FDA issuing a warning about an investigation about our beloved savior, Reumofan! We were all in denial and wanted to shame-blame the FDA for being critical of a natural supplement that was foreign-made that was getting too popular, and perhaps chiseling away at pharmaceutical drug profits. We automatically assumed the FDA was protecting the interests of the major drug companies that produce anti-inflammatory prescription drugs like Enbrel and Humira.
We were wrong. My conscience drove me the 2 hours down from Orange County, California to Tijuana, Mexico to talk to the pharmacists that I trusted. They confirmed my worst fears. They said the company that manufactured Reumofan, Riger Naturals had either disappeared or had been shut down by the government. They didn’t know which happened first. But that other “imitations” were now popping up with similar names to fill the demand and the huge void that the mysteriously vanished manufacturers of Reumofan left behind.
Dumbfounded, I walked away and couldn’t believe my ears. Maybe my Spanish was rusty and not translating correctly? I went to another pharmacy that spoke English. They confirmed it all. I don’t remember how I crossed over the border that evening and drove back. I was so ashamed. I started to count how many people I had referred this over-the-counter all-natural supplement to in the span of 1-2 years. I had to issue an un-official recall and text, email and phone each person and apologize with the devastating news. ME! How could this happen to ME?!? I was the one everyone trusted to translate and to be their medical advocate. Here I was a victim and corroborator of a shoddy medical scam.
To my surprise, some of the reactions were even more shocking. Cathie said she did not care if it had steroids or not, the fact that they worked was good enough for her to continue. I couldn’t believe my ears. Then she explained that she was almost 70 years old and whatever the side effects were, didn’t matter compared to her being able to regain mobility, because she didn’t want to have a knee replacement surgery. The side effects of not walking were worse than taking them and gaining some weight.
Some others stopped taking Reumofan immediately. Some continued on and off when they were desperate for joint pain relief. Meanwhile, I made sure my entire family stopped taking them. We all went through different stages and severity of withdrawal. My husband slowly weaned off of them. My mother and I both stopped cold-turkey (which I don’t recommend without careful medical supervision.) Her joints went into severe pain and swelling. Not sure if this created a domino effect but she soon after had a severe case of gout at that same time. Of course, she was automatically administered injectable steroids at the hospital which helped give some longer-term relief but nevertheless, those had to be tapered off as well. So that was a blessing in disguise to help her come off the steroids more gently.
As for me, my system went into shock from an abrupt stop of steroids, because I was taking at least 2 pills a day for about a year. I went through approximately 16 months of a very difficult withdrawal. That included a weaker immune system, trouble breathing, a slow down of metabolism, extreme anxiety attacks, and virtually no sleep! I continued with hair loss and pre-diabetes symptoms for another 6 months. I tried to get back to exercising regularly, even if it was just a slow crawl around the park. If I tried to do anything rigorous like a Zumba dance class, I would literally crash in bed for the rest of the day. My cortisol levels would spike and cause a stress pool of adrenaline and consequently even more adrenal fatigue.
I remember walking my first full mile and how that was a big deal. I love the swimming pool and for 6 months could not swim or lift my right shoulder to do even one measly-stinking lap. Not one! So I would just walk in the pool to gain some muscle strength back from the resistance of the water. My back started aching and I discovered I had developed herniated discs so that added to the anguished pain of trying to get out of the rabbit hole. All that was disguised by the steroids and I had actually contributed to more damage by not knowing there was a problem.
It really took about a year and a half before the brain fog lifted and my memory was back! Had not even realized how much it had affected me until the clouds lifted. I started focusing again and my girls noticed it immediately. Little details of their life were sparkling back into my conversations with them and they appreciated their MamaBear was back on her game! One mile turned into two and I was back swimming horizontally with both arms in and out of the water! My appetite stabilized and I was sleeping through the night with only one bathroom urge. Life after steroids was coming back.
I knew my steroid withdrawal was done when I decided to learn French out of the blue. I had the energy and desire to start something new and challenge my brain. That felt like the demarcation moment of my own renaissance. I was finally free and clear from an accidental addiction without my knowledge and definitely, without my permission. Unfortunately, the creaks and squeaks from my knees came back, but this time, I was taking the best natural turmeric and ginger roots supplements made by my friend who grows them on her family farm in Vietnam and makes them by hand here in California. I am grateful for my recovery and the wise support of my mother to get me back on track.
As we learn to be our own best medical and patient advocate, here are some of my own painful life lessons:
1st clue: It was too good to be true.
2nd clue: Should have researched the manufacturer, checked out reviews, FDA website, PatientsLikeMe and online resources like WebMd.
3rd clue: Should have been more in-tune to the side effects that were so obvious sooner.
4th clue: Should have listened to my mother when she noticed my adrenal suppression and pre-diabetic symptoms. (Mom is still always right!)
# So yes, steroids are sneaking into mainstream supplements and online resellers of various products. Please remember CONSUMER BEWARE.