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June 24, 2016
By A. Weinberg, Contributing Columnist
Our livers don't get a lot of our attention and love. We are most used to
thinking about our heart. And not only in matters of love. Things are
marketed as “heart-healthy” and “low-cholesterol.”
We also know that the kidneys, that filter everything, must be looked
after, and not saturated with the bad stuff, like alcohol.
But livers can get saturated, too. And if they do, it can be lethal.
Hepatotoxicity causes a large percentage of hospital admissions, and
even liver failure, in some cases.
The medical community hasn't ignored this: There are more than 900
drugs on the market that have been identified as harmful for the liver
or toxic to the liver, a condition called "hepatoxicity", and many of them
have already been withdrawn.
Currently, there are not numerous complex treatments for
hepatotoxicity. The most common remedy is to discontinue what you
have been taking, or make sure to abstain from certain substances.
Read on to find some of the possible culprits of liver poisoning.
1. Many Drugs Can Poison Your Liver
Are you the "prescription type". Oddly enough, binging on fairly
common legal drugs is one of the top causes of hepatotoxicity and even
According to a 2014 article by Nilesh Mehta, M.D., from the Long Island
Jewish Medical Center in the New York Hospital in Queens,
approximately 2000 cases of acute liver failure happen annually in the
United States, and drugs account for over 50% of them. That's an
More than 900 drugs, toxins, and herbs have been found to cause
damage to the liver. These drugs account for more than 20-40% of
So, what should you most watch out for?
The statistic that Mehta cites is that in that figure of 50% liver failure
due to prescription drug use, 39% can be attributed to acetaminophen.
Now, that's a problem. Why? More than 600 drugs contain
acetaminophen in the US, including Tylenol, Nyquil, Alka-Seltzer Plus,
Dayquil, Dimetapp, Midol, Goody's Powders,Anacin, Actifed, Robutussin,
Dristan, Sudafed and on and on. Prescription drugs that contain
acetaminophen include oxycontin, Vicodin, Percocet, Lortab and many
Other than acetaminophen, other medications cause 13% of liver
Drugs account for 2-5% of cases of patients hospitalized with jaundice,
and 10% for those with acute hepatitis.
The moral of this story is to read the labels, if you are giving yourself
medications and to be pro-active, if you are being given medications
such as in a hospital or doctor's office.
You just have to make sure you check how whatever medication you
are taking might affect your liver.
The effects of drug-induced hepatotoxicity can range from
asymptomatic elevation of liver enzymes to hepatic failure. Of course, it
depends on your body, what you're taking, and how much of it you're
The good news is that, if you and/or your doctor detect it as a threat
early in the game, it's easily reversible, and will be okay. While some
drugs may be harmful, the other positive side is that there are no
scientific studies on the disadvantages of sex and rock and roll for the
2. Alcohol Of Course Can Cause Liver Poisoning
You might want to cut down on the partying, if it involves binging on
drinks. "Alcoholic liver disease" is a real condition, and it comes from
saturating your poor organ with one too many shots of vodka.
It also leads to potentially more serious conditions, such as chronic
liver disease, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.
Figures from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
reveal that in 2007 liver cirrhosis was the 12th leading cause of death
in the United States, with a total of 29,925 deaths (48% of those
According to a 2014 study by Gin Gao from the National Institutes of
Health in Bethesda, Maryland, ALD (alcoholic liver disease) is also on a
spectrum, including simple steatosis, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis,
cirrhosis, and superimposed hepatocellular carcinoma.
There are currently no intricately-developed target therapies, apart
from nutritional support, corticosteroids, and abstinence.
Best to just prevent these things by drinking in moderation. Besides,
one fancy cocktail trumps several cheap shots of vodka any day.
3. Avoid a High-fat Diet to Prevent Liver Poisoning
Have you ever tasted foie gras? I haven't, but the concept of it is to
fatten a goose liver in order to make it tastier.
The goose are force-fed corn, or some kind of fat-inducing diet. If you
are not of the vegetarian or vegan persuasion, this might seem like a
concept with merit. However, regardless of your views on animal
cruelty, the one thing’s for sure: You don't want to do this to your own
“Fatty liver syndrome” is yet another condition that is detrimental to
humans. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) cause symptoms
similar to alcohol-related liver injury, but is present in those who don't
In a 2005 article by David A. Sass, Jefferson University physician,
NAFLD has a high prevalence in those who are obese and/or type II
diabetics. Similar to ALD, its symptoms range from benign hepatic
steatosis to cirrhosis.
You don't have to totally give up those cookies and ice cream, but do
cut down. There are other foods out there, and your liver will thank
you for it.
4. Sugar Poisons Your Liver
Sugar has been described as a “chronic, dose-dependent liver toxin.”
Dr. Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics in the division of endocrinology at
the University of California, describes it as being similar to alcohol-
related hepatotoxicity in a few ways.
First, sugar works as a substrate for converting dietary carbohydrates
into fat, and is related with insulin resistance, abnormal fat levels in the
blood stream, and a fatty liver.
Sugar also goes under a reaction with proteins that leads to free radical
superoxidizing, and can result in liver inflammation.
He also claims it has a “hedonic pathway”, basically meaning the more
you have, the more you want. I think the junk food junkies and
partiers among us can relate to that.
The worst sugar you can consume is fructose, which is metabolized
directly into fat, not cellular energy like glucose. However, take heart
that sugar is marked as a liver toxin, but only in toxic doses. It can be
useful post-workout or with fatty-induced glycogen depletion.
So, how much sugar is recommended daily? According to Lustig, 25
grams is a good figure; of course, eat less if you already struggle with
sickness related to sugar intake or you are overweight. Just keep tabs
on what you're eating, and make the sugar part of your week what it
is: a treat. Not a habit.
5. Toxins from Mushrooms Can Damage Your Liver
It only stands to reason that toxins can be, well, hepatotoxic.
There are various toxins that attack the liver, many coming from fungus
In 2016, Y. Wang from the Institute of Food Science and Technology in
Beijing, China, discovered one of them: Ochratoxin A., which is
sometimes produced by aspergillum and penicillin species, myotoxin
contaminants that can show up in agricultural products.
In addition to being hepatotoxic, Ochratoxin A was also found to be
damaging to the kidneys and cancer-causing, and to weaken the
Another common liver toxin is from the poisonous wild mushroom,
amanita phalloides, which is sometimes mistaken for an edible species.
The moral of the story here is to pay attention to the fruits and veggies
that you're buying, and don't mushroom-hunt without an expert at
6. Certain Herbal supplements Are Not Liver-Friendly
In a world of weight loss and health junkies, herbal supplements are
becoming a quite common commodity.
But you've got to be careful which ones you're taking, and not assume
that all will do you good.
Leslie Yang, from the University of Chicago, observed one strange case
in 2016, from a woman taking a product called “Free-Advanced” for
arthritis. It contained two herbal ingredients.
This patient presented with hepatitis, which improved directly after she
stopped taking the supplement.
Since neither she nor the doctor recognized any of the ingredients as
hepatotoxic, she went back to taking the supplement. When she
resumed, she suffered from hepatotoxicity, and the liver biopsy indeed
confirmed acute drug-induced liver injury.
They concluded that one of the ingredients, Chinese Skullcap, could be
a possible toxic agent.
Again, check the ingredients of what you take, and pay special
attention to how it affects your body.
7. Green Tea Can Damage Your Liver
This is a weird one. But the poster child of weight loss, rainbows, and
puppies has an active ingredient that, when you overdose, can make
your liver angry.
A 16-year-old girl who drank 3 cups of herbal green tea per day was
surprised to find that she had liver damage.
The catechin in the tea, while extremely good for you in normal doses,
in high ones, can cause hepatotoxicity. Niket Sonpal, M.D.,
gastroenterologist and professor of medicine in New York City, equates
it to “little bombs going off in your liver.”
Remember that what is a high dose for one person can be normal for
another. But, for the sake of your liver, you really shouldn't be drinking
more than 5 cups of green tea per day, regardless.
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|Sugar, when eaten in excess, is a liver toxin.