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Some Dietary Supplements Linked to Liver Damage

Bodybuilding, Weight Loss Supplements Worst Culprits

Bodybuilding, Weight Loss Supplements continued...

Weight loss supplements were linked to even worse damage -- inflammation of the liver that in some cases could have been fatal without a liver transplant, he says. In the study, 12% of the 17 people taking weight loss products needed a transplant.

In about half of the cases involving bodybuilding supplements and 41% of cases involving weight loss supplements, the researchers concluded that the products "definitely" were the cause of drug-induced liver injury. The people weren't taking any other medication, Navarro says.

Other types of supplements that were implicated in 10% to 14% of cases were immune-boosters, cough and cold products, and depression and anxiety products.

Involve Doctor in Conversation

Donald M. Jensen, MD, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Liver Diseases at the University of Chicago Medical Center, says it's important to tell your doctor if you are thinking about taking supplements, as they can offer guidance about which ones may be beneficial. In some cases, they may want to monitor your liver enzymes, he says. Jensen was not involved with the work.

Also, "patients need to be label readers," he says. "You can't just assume that everything out there is safe; there are [products] out there that can be potentially damaging."

Duffy MacKay, ND, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), tells WebMD that liver damage in people on supplements is likely due to "spiking" with undisclosed ingredients.

CRN, the trade group that represents the supplement industry, has been working with the FDA since 2010 to address the public health problems posed by the illegal addition of approved drugs or unproven drugs to these products, he says.

With bodybuilding and weight loss products in particular, MacKay says, he is concerned about the addition of steroid or steroid-like compounds. Steroids and their cousins can help people to build muscle, and they have been linked to liver injury, he says.

Navarro did disclose he has done consulting work for the pharmaceutical company Merck.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary, as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.


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