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Yet more reports of liver damage from Herbalife

Yet more reports of liver damage from Herbalife
In 2007 liver doctors sounded the alarm about cases of liver damage in users of Herbalife products. [J Hepatol. 2007 Oct;47(4):521-6.] [J Hepatol. 2007 Oct;47(4):514-20.] According to researchers at the Universidad de Oviedo in Spain there are still problems with the products. The Spaniards analysed data from the Pharmacovigilance Centres and discovered twenty cases of liver damage among Herbalife users.

In their article the Spanish researchers refer to the cases that were reported in 2009 and to other more recent references that have since cropped up in the literature. These included a case of hepatitis in a 63-year-old Argentinian woman who was using Herbalife [Acta Gastroenterol Latinoam. 2008 Dec;38(4):274-7.] and cases reported by Icelandic researchers in 2010. [Laeknabladid. 2010 Mar;96(3):167-72.]

According to the Spanish researchers 30 cases of liver damage in Herbalife users have been described in the literature. When they looked into the Spanish pharmacological databanks they found another 20, bringing the total now to 50.

The researchers studied the period from 2003 to 2010.

In 15 of the 20 cases the patients were not using any medicine, therefore ruling out possible interaction between Herbalife products and other substances which might cause liver damage.

Yet more reports of liver damage from Herbalife

In nine cases the researchers found measurements that doctors had made of the enzyme ALT during after use of Herbalife products [below left]. ALT is an indicator of liver damage. The higher the ALT level, the worse the state of the liver. Stopping Herbalife products improved the subjects' liver condition.

Yet more reports of liver damage from Herbalife

Two of the patients started to use the Herbalife products again afterwards. In the figure above on the right you can see that their ALT level rose again, and then fell when the patient stopped using the products.

The researchers don't know which Herbalife products cause liver damage. Many of the patients used Rose Ox a supplement containing extracts of turmeric, rosemary and clove and the protein shake Formula 1, some patients did not use these products.

As far as the Spaniards are concerned though, the matter is clear. "Our results emphasize the need to establish further regulatory measures", they write.

Herbalife responded several months after the Spanish study results were published. [Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2012 Mar;21(3):333-4.] According to Herbalife the Spanish used the wrong method when claiming that Herbalife products were the cause of liver damage, and the researchers themselves were dubious. "The failure to acknowledge these assessments raises questions about the authors' scientific balance given the serious and unsubstantiated accusations about a company's whole product line", wrote Herbalife.

The first author of the Spanish study, Gloria Manso, is not impressed with the way Herbalife denied the research findings.

"This is perhaps an understandable attitude after the first publications but not when after a considerable period, new cases keep being reported and are added to the list", Manso writes. "Herbalife should, at least, consider the possibility that some of their products can induce hepatotoxicity in certain circumstances and should make an effort to actively collaborate in the identification of the agents responsible."

Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2011 Oct;20(10):1080-7.

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