Liver damage is often caused by supplements

We are big proponents of non-drug treatments, including a variety of vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements. However, potential liver damage by butterbur is why we do not recommend this supplement, even though I was one of the participants in the clinical trial that showed it to be effective in preventing migraines. I also cautioned about risks of some Ayurvedic medications.

A recent report in Hepatology, a journal devoted to liver diseases, suggests that 20% of all cases of liver damage are due to herbal and dietary supplements. The main culprits were anabolic steroids (these are banned in professional sports, but are widely used for muscle building), green tea extract, and supplements with multiple ingredients. Anabolic steroids cause prolonged, but not serious liver injury, which resolves when the supplement is stopped. Green tea extract and many other products cause acute liver damage, similar to that seen in hepatitis. The majority of cases of liver injury are due to products that contain multiple ingredients, which makes it difficult to figure out which of the supplements is responsible. Unfortunately, non-prescription supplements are not regulated by the government. This is mostly because it is a $37 billion dollars a year industry with a powerful lobby in Washington. The authors conclude their report by saying that “the ultimate goal should be to prohibit or more closely regulate potentially injurious ingredients and thus promote public safety.”

Until these products come under FDA’s supervision, you should buy only products made by reputable American and German companies. Germany tightly regulates their supplement industry, so if a product is sold in Germany (and none of the butterbur products are approved there or in Great Britain), it is probably safe to take. Do not buy products made in China where corruption has led to many scandals related to the quality of supplements, drugs, food, and environmental pollution.

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