May 22, 2012 — New research has linked the use of herbal supplements and dietary supplements to an increased risk of liver damage. Researchers are warning that body-building supplements and herbal supplements are the most likely culprits for causing liver damage. Dr. Jose Serrano, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), warns that dietary supplements are associated with 18% of all liver injuries in the U.S. Even more troubling is the fact that the rate of these injuries is continuing to increase.
No liver-failure induced deaths have been reported, but 7% of patients in the study required a liver transplant. Given that liver transplants are exceptionally rare and there is a high demand for new livers, many people must wait many years before they receive a transplant. The pain, suffering, medical expenses, lost income, and decreased quality of life may be nearly unimaginable.
Despite the risk of liver injury, dietary supplements and herbal supplements are mostly exempt from review from the FDA. Many people falsely believe that supplements are food, or are very safe. In reality, supplements are scrutinized far less than food additives, and they are a leading cause of liver damage.
The researchers who conducted the study analyzed data from the Drug Induced Liver Injury Network. Data was collected from 8 states between 2003 and 2011. Within this time period, 679 people reported liver injury, and 93 of these injuries were associated with dietary supplements.
- Body-building supplements caused 33% of the liver injuries
- Weight-loss supplements caused 26% of the liver injuries
- Other supplements caused 31% of the liver injuries
Other complications were also reported. Jaundice was reported by 78% of the patients, nausea reported by 60%, itching reported by 58%, and abdominal pain reported by 47%. Furthermore, almost 2/3 of the patients required hospitalization. 11% of the patients had liver problems that lasted for at least 6 months.
The authors of the study were concerned about the risk of toxic dietary supplements on the market. Approximately 40% of adults take a supplement, and many do not realize that there could be risks. Many manufacturers make illegal marketing claims that their product can have health benefits, misleading consumers. Another issue is that people who are taking supplements fail to inform their doctor. Some vitamins, herbs, and supplements can have toxic interactions with drugs.
In the future, the researchers hope that growing awareness about the risks of supplements will help the public make more informed decisions when deciding whether to take a supplement. They also hope that scientists will better understand the effects of supplements on the human body.
The data is considered preliminary. It was published in an abstract at the Digestive Disease Week conference, which took place today in San Diego, CA. The data is not published or peer-reviewed yet.
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