Herbal pills may hurt your liver

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herbal capsules

Unmonitored levels of heavy metals upset metabolism and damage one of the body’s most important organs

Herbal pills : Did you know that the spike in liver diseases among Indians is directly proportional to the intake of herbal supplements and medicines, particularly those which do not subscribe to standards? That we may be nursing a misconception that anything herbal is natural and safe? Proof of this comfort sentiment lies in the fact that in the the  last few decades, the market of India’s herbal medicine sector is over Rs 30,000 crore. According to latest research, frequent and unmonitored use of herbal supplements and medicines may lead to liver injury and liver failure even in patients with no history of liver disease.

What is Herbal-Induced Liver Injury?

Liver injury associated with the consumption of herbal medicines is referred to as “herb-induced liver injury” (HILI). The symptoms of HILI are identical to those of “drug-induced liver injury” (DILI). Now both are caused by chemical components that are produced either by natural or synthetic ingredients. These natural and synthetic chemicals are foreign to the body and require metabolic breakdown to be eliminated. However, in the course of metabolism, substances that are toxic to the liver may be produced, which can further damage the liver.

The damage explained

Dr Damanjit Singh Chadha, Internal Medicine, at Fortis Hospital, Delhi, says, “Some Ayurvedic medicines contain heavy metals and as they are not regulated under medicine-making standards, the use of heavy metals like lead, arsenic and mercury are not mentioned on the labels. These heavy metals have an adverse effect on the liver.”

According to a study published by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, “Not everything which originates from plants is safe for consumption. Some plants used in herbal supplements produce toxic compounds in the course of metabolism. Some of these herbs are produced in very unhygienic conditions using potentially toxic ingredients, subsequently exposing the consumers to multiple hepatotoxins. It is also worthy to note that some marketed herbal products are composed of complex mixtures, hence the exact component that is responsible for the injury is difficult to discern.”

Expert Advice 

Dr DS Chadha says, “Any form of self-medication is harmful, whether it is over-the-counter medicines or herbal medicines. Self-prescription has made liver and kidney damage very common even in the younger generation.” Counselling with a professional is very important before taking any medications and ask for the alternatives if you feel that a supplement of medication is necessary for you, he says. 

Miss Seema Singh, Chief Clinical Nutritionist at Fortis hospital, says, “A well balanced and nutritional diet is enough to provide your body with the required nutrients, along with a healthy 20 minutes of moderate exercise every day. That will  show far better results than quick fix supplements.”

Why ‘herbal’ feels safe to us?

The term ‘herbal’ itself gives a false sense of security regarding safety due to its believed source of origin. Herbal medications promise many health benefits like improved health, weight loss, decreased stress, increased energy, and relief from depression. They are also comparatively cheaper and more accessible as a doctor’s prescription are not required for the purchase, making it even more dangerous as the intake of these medicines are unmonitored and may lead to the patient consuming a higher level of dosage.

Herbal supplements are so commonly used that they often go unreported at the doctor’s clinic. Other times patients don’t think it is important enough to report to the doctor if they are taking herbal supplements as they are believed to fall under the category of “food” and not “medicine”.

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