Feature #15: Tanya Kong

tanyaTanya Kong

Age: 33

Career: Lawyer

When did you cease using topical steroids: I’m not sure exactly, it’s been over a year now.  I stopped after searching ‘eczema’ on the internet and Instagram and discovered the hashtag #tsw. I remember having one last prescription of steroids in my cupboard at that time, and telling myself once that supply ran out… I wouldn’t go back to the doctor.

What type did you use: Can’t say I paid attention to the names, but mostly a mild to medium strength brand. Often would just pick up the over the counter 0.5% hydrocortisone, but the last prescription I remember was from my family doctor –  500ml lotion bottles of 1% hydrocortisone with 2 refills.

What is your favorite product for comfort? It’s varied over the year or so. I hate using anything that isn’t natural. Right now coconut oil is working really well, which is weird as before it would make me extremely itchy. My skin seems to be taking it much better. If I put anything else on it – I get unbearably itchy, including any creams touted to be for itchy or dry skin with no fragrances etc. But of course, above and before anything else, this whole process has inspired me to learn SO much more about the body, how it works and how I can help my body with supplements, good food and nutrition. I find a big part of this struggle is the mental anguish, the insecurities, depression, anxiety, lack of motivation, loss of hope…Going to topical therapies is one method to quell the pain, but the biggest difference has been eating the right foods to control my moods and keep my energy up. I make a smoothie every morning and throughout the day supplement with daily doses of goat’s milk kefir (prebiotic), DHA and fish oils (skin texture, brain and nerve function), hemp seed oil as a source of omega 3 and vitamin E (skin, brain and nerve) ashawaghanda herb (stress and anxiety), ionic magnesium citrate (waste removal, relaxation, sleeping and quelling inflammation), maca herb (better mood, stress relief, sex drive), blueberries (skin and brain function), raw cocao (source of magnesium and zinc – helping heal the skin), zinc citrate (heals the skin), turmeric (calms inflammation, improves mood), chlorella (remove toxic metals from the blood), raw honey (can be mixed with anything in warm water – improves bioavailability of herbs and supplements– i.e. helps body assimilate and process these supplements so they work better!)

What is the hardest thing to deal with during this condition? I’m a lot better than I was. It’s been an incredibly challenging year. It’s difficult to relay to others the pain, and garner the understanding and empathy for someone who itches constantly, shuns their new reflection, and feels shame and embarrassment in public. The pain, distraction, stress, and anxiety can be unbearable. I’m a private person, and I don’t like to burden people with my personal problems, and I do believe we all have some kind of struggle to endure – whatever the form. But I think what makes this most difficult is explaining the complexity of my pain. Most nights have been a push, a call to god to be strong and power-through the unbearable itch, the soreness and missing out on life and being normal. Any woman wants to feel pretty, sexy and powerful in their own skin. Skin is a reflection of health, vitality, and sensuality. It communicates feelings and emotions through touch. To lose confidence, and self-worth; to see my bright light fade and watch myself and my face, neck, chest and arms deteriorate over the last year and not have the strength, energy or stamina to see the people I love and adore, then watch friendships I turned away from for fear of appearing frail or being viewed as ‘unpretty’ fade over time has been hard. BUT, I refuse to look at this as a loss! I’ve learned so much about my body and I’ve discovered the most real and authentic sources of love in my life. I thank it. Sharing this story means one step towards our collective evolution in accepting that the body is an intelligent biological system that knows how to heal itself.  Prescription drugs that suppress symptoms have the potential to wreak havoc on the body, more havoc than we ever imagined and often much worse than the original ailment. We MUST give credit to and appreciate the merciful intelligence ingrained and innate in our cells. Our body can heal itself, if we appreciate it for everything that it is, and allow it!

What is the first thing you will do when healed? I’m almost healed now…and slowly but surely, I’m feeling more and more comfortable going out, showing off my glowing personality and gaining back my confidence. I’ve had a few good days recently and have felt overwhelming joy over not itching in public and being able to present myself with confidence and positivity. I’m a wonderful person with much love to share when I’m not wincing in pain!

Depression Reversal

Ever thought about our stomachs affecting our thoughts and emotions?

“There is a huge and growing everyday body of evidence connecting the health of the gut to the health of the brain. In fact, there’s a saying in functional medicine, fire in the gut, fire in the brain, which means that if you have inflammation, parasites, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, fungal overgrowth, or dysbiosis in the gut, then that is going to produce an inflammatory response that in turn affects the brain and can cause inflammation and a whole bunch of other problems in the brain, and this is not a fringe theory at this point. It’s true that unfortunately not a lot of primary care doctors or even psychologists or psychiatrists are aware of this connection, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t well established in the scientific literature. It absolutely is. And in fact, it’s been known for almost a hundred years going back to some research that was done at Duke in the early 1930s and 1920s connecting the gut and the brain and even the skin in this axis—the gut–brain–skin axis, which I’ve written and spoken about before.”

This podcast goes into a lot of detail about how inflammation, anywhere in the body, can affect our minds (the frontal cortex).

Also, Kresser talks about the HPA axis, or the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis. If we’ve learned anything about topical steroid dependency, we know that overuse can lead to a suppression of the HPA axis. And then, add chronic, everyday stress to the situation, and you’ve got a system that is extremely overloaded.

The last big subject he touches on is deficiencies in the body that could be contributing to depression. If we are lacking in certain vitamins and aren’t using it optimally in the body (methylation issues) then it can be throwing our balance off.

I highly recommend this podcast if you wish to catch his more in depth explanations on depression and inflammation in the body. What we are eating and lacking in our diet could  the reason we are mentally suffering and struggling to get through certain situations.

Kresser Podcast on Anxiety

Generic Brands: Are they really Equivalent?

When we are prescribed steroids, we sometimes choose to use the generic brand because it is cheaper. Why spend tons of money on the brand name if you can get the same cream for a lower price?

Well, we may need to rethink our bargain.

A study done in 1991 showed that not all off-brand topical steroid products hold up to their supposed counterpart.

From the abstract: “Six generic formulations of 5 topical steroids were compared for bioequivalence with their trade name counterparts using an in vivo vasoconstriction assay. Two of the six generic forms were found to show significantly less vasoconstriction then the respective trade-name topical steroids.”

Without even meaning to, you could be using a topical steroid that is less potent than the prescribed objective. I have not been able to find evidence that this has been rectified since the 1990’s. This is extremely troubling, something that needs attention if it is still an ongoing occurrence.

What is more discouraging is the fact that this relates to ALL generic drugs, not just to topical steroids.

In 2011, a Supreme court decision was made: If there is a side effect seen in a brand name drug, the company must place it on the label. However, the generic company is not under such law and does not have to share those findings on the label.

As explained by Dr. Roger Steinert in his article, Generic vs Brand-Name Drugs: An Ongoing Debate, he describes the fatal flaw of how generic drugs work. The FDA says that the generic brand must 1) use the same concentration of active ingredient as the brand name and 2) same route of administration as the brand name. However, they are not reviewed and are not as monitored as their brand name “counterpart”. This leaves an immense room for error.

So, next time you pick up that generic brand, remember what you are paying for. What a backwards world we live in…

 

Study From: A Double-Blind controlled comparison of generic and trade-name topical steroids using the vasoconstriction assay. Arch Dermatol. 1991;127(2):197-201. Olsen EA.

Topical Steroid Label Part II

Class 1 steroids, like Clobetasol Propionate, will always be the ones you see in studies showing bigger problems than less potent classes. However, that does not mean less point steroids are super safe.

So, I looked up the insert for the steroid I used, Alclometasone Dipropionate, which is a Class 6 steroid (Classes range from 1-7, 1 being the highest).

“May be used in patients 1 year of age and older, although safety efficacy of drug use for longer than 3 weeks have not been established.”

Not…. been… established. That translates into “we don’t know anymore after 3 weeks.” Also, it should NOT be used in children under 1 year old (although my personal belief is to steer clear of steroids on newborn skin).

The insert says to apply 2-3 times daily. We still see wavering views on this subject, some research showing putting on steroids creams more than once a day does not increase the likelihood of it working, but actually just increases your chances of overusing. Source

“If no improvement is seen within 2 weeks, reassessment of diagnosis may be necessary.” This doesn’t say “if this isn’t working we will just give you more potent steroids,” it states that there my need to be a reevaluation. Speak to your doctor about such matters because it is unbelievably important that you are diagnosed correctly. Perhaps you need a swab done to see if you have an infection? Or perhaps you are allergic to something inside the medication, or to a chemical or food you are use.

“In another study, Aclovate (alclometasone dipropionate) was applied to 80% of the body surface of a normal subjects twice daily for 21 days (3 weeks) with daily, 12 hour periods of whole body occlusion.” The HPA axis decreased 10% in these patients. This is a Class 6, mildly potent steroid, and within 3 weeks there was HPA axis suppression. First, 80% is almost full body, and some doctors will tell you to do that. Secondly, what is a normal subject? Someone with healthy skin? If so, someone with eczema will be even worse off since our skin barrier is damaged. Source

One of my favorite quotes is, “Topically applied Aclovate cream and ointment can be absorbed in sufficient amounts to produce systemic effects.” There is that word again: systemic. This Class 6, mildly potent steroid, can start affecting our adrenal glands. If a doctor says this isn’t true, hand them an insert.

This insert also says the same thing as Clobetasol Propionate regarding child toxicity and infection warnings. It also specified that it should not be used on diaper dermatitis.

“The following local adverse reactions have been reported…”

Who reports this? I never have. Where are these reports being made, or sent? Who sends them? Patients? Doctors? I know when I’ve stated adverse affects I’ve been told I was wrong by a doctor, so I know they weren’t reporting what I saw. I can only imagine that the list given is much smaller and/or incorrect due to lack of reporting.

But, check this out, you CAN do something: REPORT YOUR ADVERSE EFFECTS

Overall, there seems to be many unclear and unknown scientific facts about this steroid (most likely for all, but I can’t speak fairly on that since I have not read every single insert). Are we as patients supposed to be fine about this? When doctors tell us they are perfectly safe when we have concerns and see adverse affects, what evidence do they possess?

More research, management, and reporting must be done for the safety of patients.

The Symptom Game

When you are sitting on your couch watching television, an advertisement may come up for a new drug. Pay attention when this happens. Listen to the commercial and take note of all the side effects that new drug may entail.

You decide you want to take that drug despite the risk. But, suddenly, you have two symptoms pop up. Your doctor says not to worry, there are drugs for those symptoms. Now, instead of one medication, you are taking three.

Then, one of your new medications is bringing on a side effect. Your doctor says don’t worry, there is a drug for that symptom. Now, instead of three medications, you are taking four.

This is how the world goes ’round. You went from one problem, to four.

Ever read the story about The Little Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly?

 

There was an Old Lady, who swallowed a fly.
But, I don’t know why, she swallowed the fly. 
Perhaps, she’ll die!
 
I know an Old Lady who swallowed a spider.
It wiggled and tickled and jiggled “inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch “the fly.
But I don’t know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps, she’ll die!
 
I know an Old Lady who swallowed a bird.
How absurd – to swallow a bird!
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
It wiggled and tickled and jiggled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly. 
But I still don’t know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps, she’ll die!
 
I know an Old Lady who swallowed a cat.
Imagine that!  She swallowed a cat!
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird.
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
It wiggled and tickled and jiggled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I still don’t know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps, she’ll die!
 
I know an Old Lady who swallowed  a dog.
What a hog!  She swallowed a dog!
She swallowed a dog to catch the cat.
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird.
Swallowed the bird to catch the spider
It wiggled and tickled and jiggled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I still don’t know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps, she’ll die!
 
I know an Old Lady who swallowed a goat.
It stuck in her throat, that silly old goat.
She swallowed the goat to catch the dog,
Swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
Swallowed the cat to catch the bird, 
Swallowed the bird to catch the spider 
It wiggled and tickled and jiggled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I still don’t know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps, she’ll die!
 
I know an Old Lady who swallowed a cow.
I don’t know how she swallowed a cow.
But, she swallowed the cow to catch the goat,
Swallowed the goat to catch the dog,
Swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
Swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
Swallowed the bird to catch the spider
It wiggled and tickled and jiggled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I still don’t know why she swallowed the fly.
Perhaps, she’ll die!
 
I know an Old Lady who swallowed a horse.
She’s DEAD, of course!

-Recorded by Dr. Mike Lockett 

 

Down the rabbit hole, further and further. Always weigh out if your first initial problem is worth potentially incurring many, many others.