This ‘Healthy Habit’ Is Actually Causing Liver Damage

When it comes to liver health, we all know the basics. You’ll want to avoid drinking alcohol to excess, for example, and stick to a healthy diet. This doesn’t guarantee that you’ll remain free from liver damage for the duration of your life, but it’ll tip the odds in your favor. Given the liver’s primary function — to clean and filter your blood — you’re going to want it to hold up over the years.

What’s causing the damage?

A doctor examines a patient suffering from liver damage

A doctor examines a patient suffering from liver damage. | Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

There’s new evidence that a habit many assume is healthy is actively causing liver damage. All of those dietary and herbal supplements that Americans are hooked on? They may be doing some serious damage to our organs — and especially our livers.

The study

Composition with dietary supplements capsules

Your favorite supplements might not actually be good for you after all. |

A study, published in the medical journal Hepatology, says that herbal and dietary supplements can cause chemical-induced liver damage. In fact, if this study proves correct, 20% of all cases of chemical-induced liver damage can be traced to supplements. That’s a dramatic increase over a decade ago when researchers say that number was less than 10%.

How does this happen?

illustration showing male liver anatomy

More and more people are taking supplements. |

There are two things likely at work here — the science has gotten better, and people are taking more supplements. For a while now, there have been many supplements and herbal remedies aimed at helping keep your liver healthy. But after a report like this, you’ll want to tread lightly, at least until we have more details and information to work with.

As for what specific supplements you should watch out for? The research team said that the most destructive products included those related to bodybuilding and weight loss.

Supplements and liver damage

Supplements at a nutrition store

Don’t just buy any old supplements because it’s cheap. | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

What does it all mean? Well, your habit of taking supplements and herbs in an effort to improve your health may be backfiring. But you shouldn’t necessarily panic — the research shows this still affects a relatively small group of people.

“Overall, liver injury from supplements is rare,” lead study author Victor Navarro, chair of hepatology at Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia, told Reuters. “However, if overused, or used in combination with other supplements, or used for very prolonged periods or in combination with conventional medications, they may become harmful.”

Be aware of what you buy

Woman shopping for supplements.

There’s no need to abandon your supplements, just remain cautious. | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

So, you shouldn’t necessarily abandon all of your supplements, but you should be aware that there are risks associated with them. Dietary supplements exist in a sort of gray market, where the FDA doesn’t really regulate them, and as a result, it can be hard to tell what the associated risks of taking them might be. There are dangerous supplements on the market, however, which you should take care to avoid.

There’s is no quick fix to your health troubles

Doctor talking to patient

A good diet and plenty of exercise is your best bet to maintaining good health. | NanoStockk/iStock/Getty Images

When it comes to supplements, tread carefully. We like to think that supplements can offer a shortcut to a better body, but as this study shows, it can actually do you harm.

“Consumers have free access to these supplements, often with inferred promises to improve health, enhance appearance,” Navarro said. “It is seductive to think that someone can impact one’s health or appearance without the need to involve a trained healthcare provider.”

A livelier liver?

A doctor making his rounds

Do your best to guard your health. | Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Another important takeaway from this particular study is that it showed a danger associated with two specific types of supplements: Those commonly used for bodybuilding and weight loss. Previous studies have even linked muscle-building and bodybuilding products to increased rates of cancer.

There are several things you can do to keep your body healthy. First, you’ll want to avoid alcohol consumption as much as you can. Also, as mentioned, do what you can to avoid using common over-the-counter pain relievers, like Tylenol or Advil, too often. Your diet plays a big part as well. There are many foods — mostly fruits and vegetables — that can keep things running smoothly.