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The number of patients admitted to hospital for severe liver injuries caused by herbal and dietary supplements claiming to promote muscle growth or weight loss is increasing, according to a new study. Researchers at the Royal Prince Alfred hospital examined records of 184 adults admitted to hospital with drug-induced liver injury between 2009 and 2020.
Doctor Emily Nash, who led the study, noted that liver injury cases linked to herbal and dietary supplements increased from 15 percent of patients during 2009 to 2011, to 47 percent of patients during 2018 to 2020.
The authors found 115 patients had a paracetamol-induced liver injury during the study period.
Of the 69 patients with non-paracetamol liver injury, 19 cases involved antibiotics, and 15 cases involved herbal and dietary supplements.
The study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, also found that transplant-free survival was worse for non-paracetamol liver injury.
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Doctor Ken Liu, who co-authored the study, said he felt compelled to study the link between dietary supplements and liver injuries after noticing more patients with injuries from drugs not typically associated with liver harm.
He explained: “I was starting to see injury in patients admitted with liver injury after using bodybuilding supplements for males or weight loss supplements in females.
“I decided I better do a study on it to see if my hunch that more of these substances were causing these injuries was true.”
Liu and his team said there needed to be more rigorous regulation of supplements and other alternative and natural therapies.
Doctor Ken Harvey, public health physician and president of Friends of Science in Medicine, said it was important to note that Liu’s study only studied the most severe liver injuries, making the actual rate of harm likely much higher.
He noted: “The study only examines severe cases admitted to a specialised liver unit; they cannot be extrapolated to the overall incidence of complementary medicine associated liver injury in Australia.”
As the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine notes, the liver is responsible for breaking down medications, and producing bile, which carries away waste, and is crucial for digestion.
Medications and supplements can damage the liver while it’s doing its work.
Certain substances form toxic metabolites that can damage liver cells so badly, to the point where it can no longer function.
According to the Mayo Clinic, this damage can cause scarring, which can lead to liver failure, and can be life-threatening.
Tatyana Kushner, assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, explains: “Herbal teas and supplements can definitely lead to liver injury and even liver failure.
“Depending on the herb, the impact can be acute, and self-resolve, or develop into chronic liver disease and liver failure, which would necessitate a liver transplant.”
How to keep the liver healthy
According to Everyday Health, here are some tips to keep the liver in good health:
-Always ask your doctor about a herbal product before taking it
-Investigate the ingredients’ list of a herbal remedy before trying it
-Limit the number of herbal products you consume
-Check the LiverTox website for background information on remedies.
Chronic use or misuse of drugs like steroids and inhalants are known to permanently damage the liver.
Furthermore, using alcohol and certain drugs together can increase the risk of liver damage.
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