At least six Australians needed organ transplants in the past five years after taking herbal supplements.
Data obtained from national organ donation registries shows, since 2011, three liver transplants and three kidney transplants have been given to people who got sick after taking some kind of herbal supplement.
It comes after West Australian man Matthew Whitby spoke to the ABC after losing his liver — most likely as a result of taking a protein powder with green tea extract and a supplement containing garcinia cambogia.
Registry representatives have told the ABC the figures only relate to cases where doctors were able to identify, and actually documented, the probable cause of the illnesses that led to the transplant.
The data does not indicate what kind of herbal supplement caused the organ failure or whether it was a definitive cause.
Liver transplant specialist Dr Nick Shackel from Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital said he had dealt with multiple cases of liver failure and transplants associated with herbal supplements.
In many cases, the patients had consumed green tea extract.
“There are compounds in green tea which if taken in excess give you predictable liver failure,” he said.
“We simply represent a tip on an iceberg of disease.”
His comments counter those of some pharmacologists, who suggest people can only get sick from green tea extract if they have an unpredictable “idiosyncratic” reaction.
There is research that suggests green tea extract can become toxic at median level at the equivalent of 24 cups in a day.
Dr Shackel, who is also a representative of Transplant Australia, said there were only a limited number of organs available to transplant.
“Clearly, this is an avoidable liver injury,” he said.
“Given we always have deaths on the waiting list and we have patients who can’t be transplanted simply because we don’t have enough organs, we’d clearly like these organs to go to people where there’s unavoidable causes of liver failure.”
Figures suggest there are currently about 1,200 people waiting for a liver or kidney transplant in Australia.
Have you ever used a herbal supplement? Did you experience any health side-effects?
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This post originally appeared on ABC News.