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Cushing's Disease--Causes and Top 10 Remedies

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May 21, 2011

By MICHAEL CHANG, Contributing Columnist

Many people who have Cushing's disease don't know it.  And it's easy to see why. At first, Cushing's disease often appears to be natural component of the aging process --  upper body obesity, weak muscles, bone pain, and fatigue. However, Cushing's disease is a condition that affects the stress hormone, or cortisol, levels in your body, which causes these similar symptoms.

With Cushing's disease, cortisol levels are augmented, negatively affecting blood pressure regulation, heart and blood vessel function, metabolism, insulin usage, and stress response. Are there any natural remedies for Cushing's disease? Are there any foods or herbs that help to fight Cushing's disease or its symptoms?

While according to the Stanford Cancer Institute, 10-15 million people are affected annually, the problem does not only occur among humans. Another victim is man's best friend. Canine Cushing's disease is also a common medical issue, affecting the comfort and longevity of your doggy companion's life. So whether it is you or your puppy that suffers from the disease, it is vital that you take the proper precautions to prevent it from reaching a potentially fatal stage.

Causes of Cushing's Disease

Cushing's disease is a condition affecting the pituitary gland, a part of the endocrine system. The gland located at the base of the brain releases excessive quantities of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) due to a tumor or hyperplasia (excess growth). Consequently, the increase in ACTH levels stimulates the adrenal glands to produce excessive amounts of cortisol, which is normally secreted in stressful situations. Heightened levels of cortisol can result disequilibrium of the body's carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, reducing the response of the immune system to inflammation.

In addition to the aforementioned problems, other common symptoms of this disease include acne, skin infections, backaches, thinning of bones, irregular menstruation, decreased fertility, and high blood pressure.

Top 10 Remedies and Cures

1. Undergo Surgery to Remove the Pituitary Tumor

The majority of Cushing's disease cases occur due to the presence of the pituitary tumor. This ultimately instigates excessive cortisol production in the adrenal glands. The high levels of stress hormone in the blood stream may cause a variety of symptoms and if left untreated, can progress into something potentially fatal. Thus, if the cause of the issue is the pituitary tumor, then one treatment possibility is to surgically remove the pituitary tumor so that production of all the associated hormones returns to normal. During recovery, cortisol replacement treatments might be necessary.

2. Use Radiation to Shrink Pituitary to Reduce Cortisol Production

The excess growth on your pituitary gland may also be reduced or eliminated through radiation procedures. Once the tumor is shrunk or removed, the neurological symptoms will be mitigated. Cortisol levels will lower and symptoms of Cushing's will diminish. However, the cost of radiation often requires thousands of dollars as well as continuous anesthesia, making it a costly and burdensome procedure.

3. Surgical Removal of Adrenal Glands to Halt Cortisol Production

In some cases, the cause of Cushing's disease stems from a growth on the adrenal glands. In this case, surgical removal of the glands may be required to reduce or halt the excessive production of stress hormone. Postoperatively, the patient will require steroid substitutes in the interim as the normal adrenal functions recovers-unless both adrenals are removed. In that case, hydrocortisone or other steroid replacements will be absolutely vital.

Because these surgical operations are extremely expensive, they are usually reserved for humans who suffer from Cushing's-unless a wealthy pet-lover decides to put thousands of dollars into paying for the operation.
The following are great alternatives to surgery to treat Cushing's disease.

4. Using Dandelion to Relieve Cushing's Disease

Surgery might be vital in certain Cushing's disease cases; however, in some more mild situations, using natural remedies such as dandelion can be enough to quell the symptoms of the disease. According to a 2004 University of British Columbia study, the compounds within dandelion-luteolin and luteolin-7-O-glucosid-were found to have significant antioxidant that serves as a great tonic for kidneys, liver, and adrenal glands. Thus, dandelion can serve as a great remedy to normalize cortisol production and adrenal functions.

Because the sterol component of the herb is similar to those created by adrenal glands, dandelion has used to support the gland and can be utilized as such to relieve the disease.

One particular natural supplement, Supraglan, which contains dandelion, wild yam, milk vetch, and other herbs, can lower the amount of cortisol produced by the adrenal gland.

5. Burdock to Detoxify Your Body to Relieve Cushing's

The herb, arctium lappa or more commonly known as burdock, can be used to help maintain adrenal function if you suffer from Cushing's disease. Its primary function as a natural remedy is to cleanse and eliminate unwanted substances through urine and sweat. Because the disease causes abnormal cortisol levels, burdock works as a great natural rememdy since it helps return the adrenal gland back to equilibrating normal cortisteroid levels.
According to a Kingley Veterinary Center in West Wessex, UK study that examined 41 canines discovered that approximately 80 percent shows improvements after homeopathic and herbal remedies. 
6. Use Lysodren to Treat Canine Cushing's Disease

Used to treat Cushing's disease, Lysodren is a drug that destroys the adrenal cortex tissue-charged with the duty of producing the stress hormone cortisol. It damages the adrenals to bring cortisol blood levels back to normalcy. This drug essentially reduces the adrenal gland function of your canine companion to the point where it is unable to produce at such high levels of cortisol.

While it is effective, it requires that dogs be provided with this treatment weekly for the remainder of their lives. Another downside is that there is a risk that too much Lysodren is taken, too much adrenal tissue is destroyed, and additional health issues arise. Addison's disease is essentially the opposite of Cushing's, with too little cortisol-required for stress management-being produced. This can be caused by taking too much Lysodren, so precautions need to be taken when administering this drug to your puppy.

7. Using Ketaconazole to Treat Cushing's in Dogs

This is often seen as the alternative to Lysodren-for dogs who are unresponsive or intolerant of the other drug. Ketaconazole serves primarily as an oral anti-fungal medicine; however, its side effects suppress hormone production and thus, can be used as a treatment for canine Cushing's disease. While it is much safer to use and is 80-85 percent responsive, according to a 2001 Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine study, the drug can be relatively expensive for dog owners to use-and thus, is often prescribed as a last resort to other drug options.

8. Giving Anipryl Can Treat Some Cases of Canine Cushing's

One alternative to the other two drugs is Anipryl, which remains a controversy among endocrinologists as to its effectiveness. Stabilizing brain chemical balance, Anipryl can reduce adrenocorticotropic hormone levels by increasing dopamine levels. According to a 2001 Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine study, only 4 out of 5 dogs actually respond to this treatment for the disease. 

Thus, while effectiveness is still in question, the drug proves to be extremely safe with little irreversible damage, and although quite pricey, can be a good starting point to treat the Cushing's in your dog. If it doesn't work, you can opt for other forms of therapy.

9. Trilostane to Inhibit the High Cortisol Levels in Canine Cushing's

This particular drug, Trilostane, is used to suppress the cortisol levels by inhibiting the production in your dog. Rather than other drugs which damage the gland in order to halt production, this one simply stops the production without destroying the adrenal glands. According to a 2009 Kansas State University study, the drug stops the adrenal gland from producing more of this stress hormone. Because it operates in the short-term, continual dosage is required for effectiveness.

10. Maintain Healthy Diet to Mitigate Symptoms of Cushing's

A key symptom of Cushing's is bone and muscle deterioration. If you are battling this disease, taking care of your health through proper diet can slow or even stop the muscle and bone loss. Low-calorie, high-protein diet, in addition to calcium and vitamin D supplements, can ensure that your bones and muscles remain healthy and strong.

Another issue is the high cholesterol associated with Cushing's disease. By limiting your daily cholesterol intake to at most 300 mg, you can reduce the impact that Cushing's will have on your high cholesterol.

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