If you shop at a local drug store or health food store, you can’t miss the shelves lined with herbal and dietary supplements that promise to help you lose weight, increase your workout results, and give you energy. However, several of the ingredients in these products have not been proven to fulfill the promise on their label. In fact, many herbal and dietary supplements contain ingredients that are extremely harmful to your liver. A vital organ in the human body, the liver filters toxic elements out of your blood stream and works to absorb the nutrients your body actually needs. If you take supplements in an effort to get—or stay—healthy you may be unintentionally inviting liver disease to take over.
The Problem Ingredients
Researchers noticed the trend of dietary supplements in the U.S. and began to pay even more attention to the detrimental nature of these products when in 2014, supplements were the cause of 20% of liver damage cases. This is a significant increase from the 7% of liver damage cases linked to dietary supplements in 2004. A liver specialist in Philadelphia spearheaded the research that was recently published in the journal Heptalogy that notes of the 700 liver damage cases reported, 130 were directly linked to supplements. The most worrisome? Bodybuilding supplements containing anabolic steroids and weight loss supplements containing green tea extract. Products like these are easily available at drug stores, health food stores, and even online. Researchers discovered that these ingredients posed the biggest threat after much investigation, largely because so many of the ingredients used in supplements are not listed on the label. The study indicated that anabolic steroids are often illegally added to body building supplements and are key factors promoting liver damage. Green tea extract was identified as the cause of 24 out of the 130 liver damage cases linked to supplements. And while many advertisements and labels showed green tea extract to be the key ingredient in weight loss, research found no indication of this.
Why The Mix-Up?
Why has false advertisement been a major player in dietary supplements? Why are ingredients left off the label? Why are harmful substances being added to “healthy” supplements? You’re not the first one to ask these questions. Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate and test herbal and dietary supplements in the same way it regulates food and prescription drugs. Advertisements and claims about how a supplement might aid in your health do not have to be proven before they are put on the market. In fact, ingredients can even be added without approval from the FDA, so no one really knows if the product is safe or effective before you purchase it. Before you head to the store to restock your supplements, read the label and avoid products with green tea extract. Do your research and find out if the product is really safe. But it might be in your best interest to avoid these products altogether.
Symptoms Of Liver Disease
If you’ve been taking supplements regularly, you need to start paying attention to your body and looking for symptoms of liver damage. The early stages of liver disease can easily be disregarded as a less significant GI issue, so contact your doctor if you experience pain under your ribs on the right side of your body, abnormal stools, fatigue, fever, abdominal swelling, or a loss of appetite. This might be an indication of liver damage. Later cases of liver disease will indicate a decrease of liver function and will negatively affect your mental function and immune system, cause kidney failure, erectile dysfunction, insulin resistance, vitamin deficiency, or severely itchy skin. You may even show signs of jaundice, the yellowing of your skin tone, begin to bleed or bruise easily, or have dark urine. Other signs have more to do with mental ability—memory loss, confusion, or difficulty concentrating. This can happen when the liver fails to filter toxins out of the bloodstream and these toxins reach the brain.
Liver disease can be quite dangerous, there is no reason to risk it for the sake of a dietary supplement. If you have been taking dietary supplements that may contain green tea extract or anabolic steroids, and are experiencing symptoms of liver disease, it’s important to get tested for liver disease. Dr. Sameer Islam is a GI specialist located in Lubbock, Texas, and is dedicated to helping you live a healthy life. If you show symptoms of liver disease, or have concerns about your liver health, schedule an appointment today.