The Ultimate Guide To Liver Supplements

Posted 11 August, 2021
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With liver disease on the rise across Australia, it’s not surprising that we’re seeing more and more advertisements for liver supplements that claim to get your liver into tip-top shape. What is surprising to many is that you don’t need supplements to help your liver function well.  

What these advertisements don’t tell you is that supplements shouldn’t overshadow the benefits of making healthy lifestyle changes. Regular exercise, a balanced and nutritious diet, and responsible alcohol intake will have a greater impact on your overall health and liver function.

If you are concerned about your liver health, why not ask your doctor for a liver health check!

About the liver

The liver performs a range of vital functions, including storing and metabolising important nutrients and medication. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how what we consume interacts with our bodies. 

Dietary and herbal supplements are often advertised as the missing link for those experiencing dietary deficiencies and anyone eager to improve their health. In fact, in 2020, Complementary Medicines Australia reported that 75% of Australians had used at least one form of complementary medicine in the previous 12 months.1 

What do we mean by supplements?

The following are common categories and examples:

  • Vitamin, mineral or nutritional supplements (vitamin C, iron, calcium)
  • Herbal supplements (traditional Chinese medicine, milk thistle, ginseng)
  • Sport supplements (protein powder, creatine, amino acids)

What do you need to consider when choosing supplements?

These supplements are available over the counter, without consultation with a doctor or specialist. When deciding if supplements are right for you, the following are some good starting points:

  • How can medicines and supplements interact with each other?
  • Do you know what each supplement actually contains?
  • What is the recommended dose?
  • How often, and for how long do you need to take the supplement?
  • Is this a necessary or potentially harmful addition for you?

Why is this important?

Supplements can contain a range of ingredients aimed at boosting nutrients missing from a person’s body; however, if taken inappropriately, they can actually damage the liver.2

Disclosure of exact ingredients is less strict for these supplements, increasing the unknown risk for consumers and their liver.2 Additionally, guidelines and regulations for these supplements to reach the market are more relaxed, meaning they are not required to go through the same review process for quality, safety and effectiveness, that prescription medicines go through.3,4

Briefly, if they do not have to tell you everything that goes into the supplement, how can you be sure that it is safe for you? Ask your doctor or specialist first!  

Everyone’s health situation is unique; asking your pharmacist, doctor, or specialist is the best way to know whether supplements are suitable for you.

What if I have hepatitis?

Extra care and consideration need to be taken when you have an existing health condition, including hepatitis, liver disease or liver cancer. Hepatitis already affects the healthy function of your liver; therefore, be careful not to weaken it further.   

Hepatitis C treatment involves medication for 8-12 weeks and, poor drug interaction between supplements and medication can cause harm, interrupt the treatment or absorption of certain drugs.5 Individuals with hepatitis B may also require some drug treatment as well.

The following site provides an overview of some drug interactions between hepatitis B and C drugs as well as other common supplements, medication, or herbal ingredients: https://www.hep-druginteractions.org/checker.

  1. Complementary Medicines Australia. Industry Audit & Trends 2020. Mawson, ACT. Available from: https://www.cmaustralia.org.au/resources/CMA-industry-presentation-2020.pdf
  2. Navarro VJ, Khan I, Bjornsson E, Seeff LB, Serrano J, Hoofnagle JH. Liver Injury From Herbal and Dietary Supplements. J Hepatol. 2017 Jan;65(1). Available from: https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdfdirect/10.1002/hep.28813
  3. Burnett AJ, Livingstone KM, Woods JL, McNaughton SA. Dietary Supplement Use among Australian Adults: Findings from the 2011-2012 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey. Nutrients. 2017 Nov;9(11). Available from:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5707720/pdf/nutrients-09-01248.pdf
  4. Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Medicines and TGA Classifications. Australian Government: Department of Health. Available from: https://www.tga.gov.au/medicines-and-tga-classifications
  5. Hep Mag. Hepatitis C Treatment and Drug Interactions. 2019 Jul 10. Available from: https://www.hepmag.com/basics/hepatitis-c-basics/hepatitis-c-treatment-drug-interactions

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