Six years ago, Mr C.B., a 45-year-old industrial worker, came to see me with an undefined cardiovascular condition. He had intermittent high blood pressure, tremor, headaches, chest pain, insomnia, excessive sweating, flushing, a fast pulse (tachycardia), a pounding heartbeat (palpitations), irritability, and a dull ache in the upper abdomen and lower chest area. He had been losing weight for some time, even though his appetite had markedly increased. He also complained of a tingling-burning numbness in his legs and feet. His dilated pupils struck me as soon as I first laid eyes on him. In conventional medical terms, he was a classic heart patient.
For 16 years, he said, he'd been working in the section of a plant that prepared potassium permanganate (Condy's crystals), so I thought we'd better investigate possible toxicity as the cause.
He agreed to undergo a lymphocyte sensitivity test. This showed that he was hypersensitised to manganese - presumably from the atmospheric dust to which he'd been exposed for so long. Nevertheless, his symptoms didn't correspond to manganese poisoning (Hunter D, The Diseases of Occupations, 6th edn, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1980: 438-45).
An echocardiogram revealed a mildly irregular heartbeat. Extensive blood and biochemistry screening only showed that he was a little low in iron. A hair mineral analysis indicated an excess of manganese and deficiency in zinc.
He agreed to take a zinc supplement each evening, which seemed to normalise his erratic blood pressure. Ginkgo biloba reduced some of the tingling numbness in his legs and feet, and Floradix 'iron tonic' appeared to help the headaches. But Crataegus (hawthorn), the classic heart remedy, did nothing, and all the other symptoms remained unchanged. I realized that I still didn't even have a diagnosis.
I decided to take another hard look. He was losing weight, though he ate a lot. He was proud of the fact that his diet consisted largely of wholegrain foods, lots of nuts and seeds, fresh (uncooked) green vegetables and salads with lashings of mayonnaise. It struck me that the grains, nuts, seeds and greens, as well as uncooked egg yolks he was eating (with the mayonnaise), were among the richest dietary sources of manganese. The very stuff to which he was sensitive was what he was craving in his diet. But this is not unusual in a hypersensitised person.
Then those eyes, those two large, dilated pupils, struck me again. Could this have something to do with an abnormally large output of adrenaline and noradrenaline?
If so, it would explain the tremor, insomnia, irritability, tachycardia, palpitations and loss of weight. So, I now needed to find the condition that combines all these symptoms with an iron deficiency and an excess of manganese.
One possibility that would tick all the boxes was a tumour of an adrenal glands - a phaeochromocytoma. An ultrasound examination confirmed this suspicion, as did a laparoscopy. A small percentage of phaeochromocytomas are malignant. This one, fortunately, was not.
Mr C.B. changed both his job and his diet there and then. He decided against an operation because it would have meant the total removal of both his adrenals. Instead, he decided to undergo a herbal treatment using mushrooms and mushroom derivatives with proven antitumour activity, including:
* Grifola frondosa (hen of the woods), taken orally (J Naturopath Med, 1993; 4:10-5)
* injections twice weekly of lentinan, a protein-free polysaccharide of Lentinula edodes (shiitake mushroom) (Excerpta Med, 1985; 690: 138-50)
* injections once a week for the first month of a polysaccharide derived from Pleurotus ostreatus (oyster mushroom) (Chem Pharm Bull, 1972; 20: 1175-80) - discontinued as, at that time, only animal studies had been done on this treatment.
The phaeochromocytomas shrank and eventually disappeared after five months, but he carried on with the treatment for a whole year. I have monitored his condition at regular intervals, and can report that he is still well with no recurrence.
Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, osteopath, homoeopath and herbalist. He can be contacted at The Diagnostic Clinic, London, tel: 020 7009 4650