Supplements warning: The ‘healthy’ herbal supplement causing severe liver injuries

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The safety profile of supplements is generally deemed satisfactory, hence their ubiquity. A review published in 2018, in the journal Toxins, explains the use of herbal supplements was seeing a steady rise. One herbal supplement that has grown in popularity is green tea extract, which contains compounds linked to a variety of health benefits. A risk of liver damage exists at higher doses, however.

According to LiverTox, green tea is a popular and commonly consumed drink and its extract is found in many herbal and dietary supplements.

The health body says: “Green tea extract and, more rarely, ingestion of large amounts of green tea have been implicated in cases of clinically apparent acute liver injury, including instances of acute liver failure and either need or urgent liver transplantation or death.”

These statements are consistent with research published in the Medical Journal of Australia, that found herbal medicines to be the cause of widespread liver damage. In fact, a review published in January 2017 in the journal Hepatology states that green tea extract is among the three top products that can cause liver injury.

Researchers led by the University of Adelaide, have put these detrimental effects down to toxic chemicals and heavy metals found in the supplements.

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They also found herbal medicines to react dangerously with other drugs in some instances.

The co-author of the paper said: “Herbs can be a source of very potent toxins, and in fact, many things we use as medicines derived from plants are toxic, poisoning predators.”

The catechins – natural antioxidants – found in green tea infusions are generally deemed safe.

It is when they’re consumed in the form of supplementation that they become harmful, however.

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In 2016, authorities in Norway found extremely high concentrations of EGCG – the active substance in green tea – inside the supplements.

The panel established that supplementation with doses of EGCG above 800 mg per day could give rise to liver damage.

Tatyana Kushner hepatology, and assistant professor in the division of liver disease at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, told Everyday Health: “Herbal teas and supplements can definitely lead to liver injury and even liver failure, we call this herb-induced liver injury.

“Depending on the herb, the impact can be acute – and self-resolve or can develop into chronic liver disease and liver failure, which would necessitate a liver transplant.

“It’s important to know that many different types of herbs can cause liver injury in an unpredictable way – for example, […] weight-loss herbal supplements have caused liver injury in many people.”

The liver carries out the role of breaking down medication.

It also produces bile acid, which transports waste out of the body, and is central to digestion.

Supplements can damage the organ by forming toxic metabolites that damage liver cells, preventing the liver from functioning.



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