Taking supplements to lose weight or bulk up? Minimize the risks to your liver!

Liver Health

Photo credit:  Pascal, Creative Commons

By pH health care professionals

Nearly half of all U.S. adults take dietary or herbal supplements ranging from multivitamins to fish oil and from calcium to iron.  When used correctly to address a vitamin or mineral imbalance or deficiency, these supplements can do wonders to help you be your healthiest.  Studies are showing, however, that people are increasingly taking the wrong supplements or are using them incorrectly which may cause an increase in liver damage.  And research shows that supplements that promote weight loss or bodybuilding are among the most common not being used correctly. 

October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month, so there’s no better time to think about your liver health and what you can do to proactively protect it. First, understand the risks to your liver of certain bodybuilding and weight loss supplements, and then make sure your doctor knows about everything you’re taking, whether prescribed or not, before starting or continuing any type of supplementation regimen.

Let’s look at the two supplements that are most commonly being used incorrectly:

Bodybuilding supplements

Research shows that certain bodybuilding supplements are linked to jaundice in men. According to the study, bodybuilding products left some men with such severe jaundice and itching that they couldn't even work. Jaundice can indicate a more serious underlying condition, including liver disease.  More than half of the 29 men taking these supplements had to be hospitalized in the study.  Other study participants had elevated liver enzymes.  

Weight loss supplements

As obesity increasingly becomes a major public health concern, many people are seeking out effective ways to lose weight, and often turn to “natural” supplements (but take note, the word “natural” is not regulated and can be slapped on any label and doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you).

“Fat burners” are believed to boost your metabolism, burn more calories and help you drop some extra fat. But certain weight loss supplements have also been linked to severe liver damage, including inflammation of the liver that in some cases would have been fatal without a liver transplant.

What should you do?

  • Be open with your doctor. As a patient, the most important thing to do is to keep your doctor in the loop. Let him or her know if you are using any herbal supplements or natural remedies. Most people don't think these count as medicine, so they don’t bother to mention them. But your doctor may be able to alert you to potential dangers, such as drug interactions or side effects, as well as recommend the best supplements for your health concerns and goals. There are many good supplements that you can take safely for health and wellness, but you’ll be better off taking them after receiving professional advice, instead of playing a risky game of trial and error.
  • Do your homework. Don't go just by what is said in an advertisement about a drug or dietary supplement. Rather, look critically at the data about the product, do a little research and ask a health care professional.
  • Listen to your body. If you don't feel well, stop the supplement immediately and consult a physician.
  • Be proactive. If you’ve been taking bodybuilding or weight loss supplements, perhaps that you ordered from TV or picked out on your own without a doctor, you may want to consider a liver test to get a status update on your liver health. You can also speak to a health care professional about ways you can ensure your liver is performing optimally.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.

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