DO DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS POSE A RISK TO THE LIVER?
Many of you may have seen headlines recently about dietary supplements potentially causing liver damage. We also hear this claim from certain health experts from time to time. But, is it true? Here is some information you need to know.
According to a new study in the Journal Hepatology, one in five cases of chemical-induced liver damage come from herbal and dietary supplements, up from one in 10 cases a decade ago.
To assess the scope of liver problems caused by supplements, researchers reviewed data from several previously published studies, much of which was also presented at a 2015 conference sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. They also looked at 130 cases of supplement-related injuries reported over eight years in a U.S. registry of drug-induced liver injuries.
However, there are some major criticisms of this study. A major flaw is that rather than trying to separate out which of the products were legitimate dietary supplements and which were in fact illegal drugs, researchers chose to lump all of them together. According to these researchers, if it looked like a supplement, it was a supplement, and if it mentioned an herb on the label it was an “herbal” product.
Steroids, which have long been linked to liver damage, accounted for more than a third of those cases in the U.S. registry. The remaining 85 cases, however, were attributed to 116 different products, often containing multiple ingredients, that left few clues as to which individual ingredient might be the culprit. Non-steroid supplements included green tea extracts (typically in weight loss products), mixtures labeled as “Chinese herbs,” “Korean herbs,” or “Ayurvedic medications,” as well as vitamins and dietary supplements. Many cases were tied to products marketed under various company labels, including six from Slimquick, four apiece from Herbalife and Hydroxycut and two apiece from Move Free and Airborne.
There is no doubt that this study and others like it will be used by some to imply or convince people that dietary supplements are bad for the liver. And, while it is certainly not impossible, let’s put it into perspective. With more than half the U.S. population of 330 million people taking supplements, this study looked at 130 cases of supplement-related injuries that occurred over 8 years. More than a third were attributed to anabolic steroids, and the vast majority of the remaining cases were mixtures of herbs, and primarily those used for weight loss. Even if 10% could be attributed to vitamins and minerals, that would be 13 cases in 8 years out of billions of uses. If you then consider that it is possible that other medical issues were involved with many of these cases, the likelihood of a normally healthy individual damaging their liver from recommended intake of quality vitamins and minerals would be less than being struck by lightning. TWICE.
The bottom line is, use supplements from a company you trust; talk to your Dr. if you are being treated for medical conditions or are on medications; and follow product recommendations and use common sense.