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Herbal supplements are often discovered with toxic levels of potent compounds that can damage the liver. Until recently, dietary sources have generally been accepted as risk-free. A scientific report published earlier this year, however, shed light on the potential dangers of mixing herbal soups with prescriptive medications after one patient damaged her liver within two days of consuming the meal.
A study conducted by the University of Adelaide earlier this year shed light on the potential dangers of mixing bak kut teh with certain medications.
The soup, available in many Asian supermarkets, is known as pork bone tea and is widely consumed in Malaysia and Singapore.
For the study researchers looked at four different formulas of the soup and found all contained toxic levels of herbal medicine, even when watered down.
According to lab tests, the undiluted form of the soup killed 83 percent of liver cells exposed to it, but just 15 percent of cells once diluted.
They said: “Our team studied the recipes of four locally purchased packet mixes of bak out teh, otherwise known as meat bone tea.
“People have been warned for some time that herbal medicines and therapies may have harmful side effects that can include significant liver damage.
“In rare cases, this has required transplantation and even led to death.”
Due to its methodology, the study cannot prove that bak kut teh causes liver damage in living humans.
It was, however, carried out after one of the researcher’s patients reportedly suffered liver damage after consuming the soup.
The patient was also reportedly taking prescription medication to lower her blood lipids.
The researchers explained: “Although adverse clinical reactions to bak kut teh are not reported, one of the authors has had a patient who presented with toxic symptoms including rhabdomyolysis two days after consuming the soup.
“For the first time, a laboratory study […] has shown that foods containing herbs, such as the soup bak kut teh, may also be toxic to liver cells.”
The results, published in the journal Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology, showed all formulations demonstrated significant levels of toxicity.
The authors cautioned that people with underlying liver disease or who are taking prescription medications should be warned of this potential side effect.
They added: “All such preparations should include accurate labelling of the ingredients until further studies can be undertaken to identify the specific herbal substances that are toxic.
“If unexpected liver damage is encouraged at autopsy, information on possible recent infection of herbal food preparations should be sought, as routine toxicology screening will not identify the active components.”
Previous studies by the same group demonstrated the potential risk of liver damage from mixing paracetamol with common Chrisna herbs.
Though the link between liver damage and herbal medicines is frequently observed, it is less commonly seen with herbal products contained in food.
The research reinforces pre-existing evidence on the toxic effects of herbal products when taken alongside prescribed medications.
The study also acts as a reminder that anyone considering taking new herbal supplements should consult a healthcare provider first.
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