Evidence Lends Weight to Long-Suspected Link Between Dietary Supplements and Liver Injury

Dietary supplements constitute a luxury in many affluent societies. Their properties contain a variety of ingredients, ranging from vitamins and anti-oxidants to fiber, proteins, amino acids, and herbal constituents. Due to an increased awareness of health in recent years, consumers are turning to dietary supplements to optimize their nutritional status. Unfortunately, the use of many dietary supplements may coincide with catastrophic side effects. Severe forms of liver injury have been reported after the intake of Herbalife and Hydroxycut products. Subsequently, tea extracts from Camellia sinensis, products containing usnic acid and high contents of vitamin A, anabolic steroids and a number of other dietary supplements may also significantly increase the risk of developing severe, life-threatening liver injuries.

While the majority of consumers are lead to believe that dietary supplements are presumably safe, the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act published in 1994 allows the distribution of said products without the approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As a result, simplified licensing practices, combined with unrestricted access to relatively cheap products, may lead to the distribution of a lot of potentially dangerous dietary supplements.

The proportion of hepatotoxicity (chemically derived liver damage) associated with dietary supplements displays a great degree of variation. A Spanish study describing 531 cases of drug-induced liver injury (DILI) indicated that 2% of the patients showed signs of hepatotoxicity. Where as a series of tests conducted by the US Drug-Induced Liver Injury Network (DILIN) indicated that approximately 10% of patients showed signs of severe liver damage. Subsequently, statistical data was as high as 35% in a small sample of 20 patients who had developed acute liver failure after being exposed to dietary supplements.

The liver is vital to the transformation and clearing of harmful chemicals from the body. Unique chemical agents, when taken in overdoses or even when introduced within suggested ranges, may pose as a serious threat to the liver. Other chemical agents, including those used in a number of dietary supplements, may essentially promote severe hepatotoxicity.

Hepatotoxicity is characterized by the tendency of an agent, often found in medications, to have a destructive effect on the liver. The capacity of a substance to have damaging effects on the liver may result in severe, life-threatening side effects. If treatment is neglected, these complications could prove to be fatal.

A number of dietary supplements have been associated with hepatotoxicity. While the specific ingredient responsible for the adverse liver effects is currently unknown, there is substantial evidence that suggests dietary supplements may significantly increase these risks. The following is a list of prominent dietary supplements that have recently been associated with the increased risk of severe liver injury:

  • Herbalife
  • Hydroxycut
  • Tea extracts from Camellia sinensis
  • Products containing usnic acid and high contents of vitamin A
  • Anabolic steroids

While no uniform pattern of hepatotoxicity has been identified with the aforementioned dietary supplements, the severity of liver injuries that they may be responsible for can range from asymptomatic elevations of serum liver enzymes to catastrophic circumstances such as hepatic failure and death.

Documented reports have confirmed dangerous side effects in a previously healthy 38-year-old woman with no risk factors for liver disease. After being hospitalized in Singapore for new-onset malaise, abdominal discomfort, and jaundice, her symptoms continued to progress over a 2-week period. Subsequently, the woman had been taking a weight loss dietary supplement, UCP-1 (BDC Nutrition, Richmond, Ky), for a period of 3 months. She confirmed taking the recommended dosage of three capsules three times a day in two-week cycles. After being admitted to the hospital, she developed hepatic encephalopathy. Despite drastic measures taken in treatment, the woman’s diagnosis worsened over time. Due to the severity of hepatotoxicity she had been diagnosed with, the woman was forced to undergo an emergency liver transplantation.

Simplified licensing practices and unrestricted access are large contributers in the distribution of dangerous dietary supplements. In an attempt to minimize risk and protect consumers, pharmacovigilance authorities and healthcare providers need to regulate dietary supplements in a joint effort. Accordingly, manufacturers who demonstrate a gross neglect for public safety should be held liable if their products are anything less than clean and unadulterated.

Do I Have a Dietary Supplement Lawsuit?

The trial lawyers at The Senators (Ret.) Firm, LLP have decades of experience navigating through complex legislative and regulatory issues and litigating high stakes cases all over the nation. Our law firm focuses on the representation of plaintiffs in dietary supplement lawsuits. We are currently accepting new cases in all 50 states.

Again, if you or a loved one has been injured by a dietary supplement, you should contact our lawyers immediately by clicking the link below or calling toll free 1-(949) 557-5800. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and we can help.