Liver damage from herbal weight loss supplements


We’d like to issue another stark reminder – herbal diet and weight loss supplements have been reported over and over again to have caused liver damage. These products are being marketed as food supplements and there is no regulatory control over them like medicines, yet they are being consumed for purported health benefits e.g. slimming and weight loss. This is most unfortunate as far from being “natural” and “safe” which the public are being led to believe, there have been serious adverse effects associated with these products.

Dietary Supplements Can Cause Liver Damage – More Research and Regulation Is Needed

Dietary supplements, which are also referred to as health supplements, include herbal products, vitamins, minerals, and any product that is not being marketed as a food or drug (medication). People take dietary supplements with the idea of maintaining or improving their health. Recently, however, my colleagues and I reported in a medical journal a series of seven patients who were referred to us with severe liver injury. They developed the liver damage after taking a health supplement called Lipokinetix® to lose weight. This supplement is a mixture of chemicals that includes an extract from a particular tea. It is said to reduce weight by working to mimic exercise and increase metabolism.

How and why can dietary supplements damage the liver? Within three months of starting Lipokinetix, these seven patients developed symptoms of acute hepatitis, including tiredness, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain. They sought medical attention and their blood tests revealed severe liver damage. One of the patients actually developed acute (rapid) liver failure and almost required a liver transplant to save her life. After being in a coma for three days, she miraculously recovered and was able to leave the hospital. Indeed, in all seven patients, the symptoms disappeared and the liver tests returned to normal within several months after discontinuing Lipokinetix. That said, I have since been informed of another individual who took this same supplement, developed acute liver failure, and did require a liver transplant. She is doing well now. However, so that her body can continue to accept the new (foreign) liver, she will be taking powerful anti-rejection medications for the rest of her life.

But that’s not all! Numerous instances have been reported in the medical literature of dietary supplements, especially herbal products, causing liver damage. These supplements include kava (which has received much recent coverage in the press), Jin Bu Huan, germander, chaparral, shark cartilage, and mistletoe, to name a few. Dietary supplements can cause liver injury in a number of different ways. In some instances, for example with kava, liver injury is dose-related. That is, the higher the dose, the more often liver damage occurs. In many instances, however, liver injury is an unpredictable peculiarity in an individual (an idiosyncratic reaction).

It is well known that people often take combinations of herbal and/or other dietary supplements. In this circumstance, if a person develops severe liver injury, identifying which supplement is the specific culprit is very difficult. What’s more, as the dietary supplement market becomes more competitive, the manufacturers of supplements are mixing and matching their products and doing so in proportions that have never before been tried. A case in point is the above-mentioned Lipokinetix, which contains among its ingredients an ephedrine-like stimulant, a type of thyroid hormone, and the tea extract.

and examples of more reports in the medical literature:
Hepatic injury in 12 patients taking the herbal weight loss AIDS Chaso or Onshido.
Acute liver injury induced by weight-loss herbal supplements

and an Editorial in the Journal of Hepatology : Slimming at all costs – Herbalife induced liver injury

Do you really need supplements? If you are not sick or have special nutritional needs, you probably do not. It is best to eat a balanced diet with emphasis on fruits and vegetables. So called dietary supplements being marketed have no additional health benefits despite what the marketeers are touting. Indeed on occasion they may be harmful to your health.