Many herbal remedies and other dietary supplements can harm the liver, according to a review based on reports to the National Institute of Health’s Drug-Induced Liver Injury Network, published recently in the journal Hepatology.
The proportion of all drug-related liver injuries that could be attributed to supplements rose from 7 percent in 2004 to about 20 percent in 2014. Bodybuilding formulas (notably those spiked with illegal anabolic steroids) and weight-loss products (notably those containing green tea extract) accounted for about half of the cases of liver damage linked to supplements. Some supplements marketed for sexual performance, improved digestion, and depression were also implicated.
Many of the supplements contained multiple ingredients, so it’s often impossible to identify the cause of liver damage. The damage is usually self-limiting (meaning that the person eventually recovers), but the damage can be permanent or even fatal, the review stated. Some of the risk comes from pharmaceutical ingredients, such as sildenafil (Viagra), illegally added to some supplements. Other implicated herbal ingredients include black cohosh, valerian, cat’s claw, red yeast rice, and garcinia.