St John Ambulance

Unacceptable Liver Toxicity from Dietary Supplements

To understand the potential for harm from herbal and dietary supplements (HDS) for weight loss, consider this observation recently published in Hepatology:

HDS-induced liver injury now accounts for 20% of cases of hepatotoxicity in the United States based on research data. The major implicated agents include anabolic steroids, green tea extract, and multi-ingredient nutritional supplements (MINS).

This observation comes from a two-day research symposium sponsored by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and the National Institutes of Health.

These are entirely unnecessary injuries caused by products that offer very little potential benefit. A 2009 meta-analysis found a small (1.3 kg/2.9 lb) effect on weight from green tea extract. Such a small effect does not meet FDA criteria for meaningful weight loss efficacy.

That’s no concern to the people who sell these magic pills. FDA has no authority to review their safety and efficacy before they are sold. FDA can only act after injuries occur and then only on a case-by-case basis.

Yet they are readily available, posing as legitimate health products. Look for green tea extract at and you’ll find more than 5,000 offerings. Stroll down to a chain pharmacy and you’ll find dozens of options.

This sorry state of affairs is indefensible.

Vitamin and mineral supplements that bariatric surgery patients need for good health are one thing. Reputable manufacturers meet that need. Those manufacturers should be leading the charge for better regulation to protect their own reputations.

People selling magic weight loss pills should be an embarrassment to everyone. Negligible benefit weighed against the potential for real liver toxicity just doesn’t make sense.

Click here for more from Physician’s Briefing, here for the paper in Hepatology, and here for more from MarketWatch on the scammy side of dietary supplement.

St John Ambulance, photograph © EDDIE / flickr

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October 20, 2016

2 Responses to “Unacceptable Liver Toxicity from Dietary Supplements”

  1. October 27, 2016 at 1:49 am, Elizabeth K. Jones said:

    Well, well, well.

    If the medical community advocated for more research in drugs to help those with obesity and were supportive of those who suffer from obesity rather than shame those with obesity – this type of crap would be less of a mindless, useless dangerous “go-to” for people who feel so desperate. Sorry but I put much/most of the blame square on the medical profession, mostly physicians. I have an absolute loathing of going to the doctor because I always feel judged…..

    • October 27, 2016 at 3:53 am, Ted said:

      Sadly, Elizabeth, you are exactly right. Many people are trying to do better, but not nearly enough of them.