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Texas man says food supplement 'ruined' his liver

He underwent several blood tests, and about three weeks after he first appeared sick, doctors told him the bad news - he needed an emergency liver transplant.
Credit: Getty Images
Green tea leaves, file photo

A North Texas father says his drive to get healthy in his 50’s left him in need of a liver transplant, the BBC reports.

Jim McCants says he was at his son’s high school graduation just outside Dallas when his wife looked at him.

"She said 'Do you feel OK?'" Jim recalled. "I said, 'Yeah I feel fine, why?' 'Your face is yellow, your eyes are yellow, you look terrible.' When I looked in the mirror it was shocking."

He was soon admitted to the hospital with a suspected liver injury. Doctors quickly ruled out alcohol, as Jim says he rarely drinks, and he wasn’t taking and prescription drugs at the time.

A liver doctor asked him about his supplement intake, however.

Jim tells the BBC as part of his “mid-life health kick,” he started taking green tea supplements because he heard about its possible heart benefits. He was taking them for about two or three months before he started to feel sick.

He underwent several blood tests, and about three weeks after he first appeared sick, doctors told him the bad news.

"She said you need a liver transplant. This has to happen fast. You have days - you don't have a week."

One day later a suitable liver was located, and he underwent the surgery that would save his life.

So what about the green tea supplements?

The BBC reports scientists aren’t certain why they might cause harm at higher doses for some people. Green tea is considered a food by the U.S. and Europe. Even in its concentrated capsule form it is not considered a medicine, and specific safety testing has not been required, reports the BBC.

If you are drinking a modest amount, you’re likely very safe. The risk comes with the most concentrated extracts, health experts believe.

Concern has focused on Epigallocatechin-3-gallate, a possibly toxic ingredient.

Dr. Herbert Bonkovsky, director of liver services at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, says people who take these green tea extracts are often trying to lose weight, so they may not be eating.

"We know from animal studies that fasted animals absorb a much higher percentage of the catechins than do fat animals. There may well be other factors of other drugs, other chemicals, use of alcohol that are also important as modifying factors,” says the doctor.

In a lengthy report on the matter, the U.S. Institutes of Health has this to say about green tea:

"Green tea is a popular and commonly consumed drink and its extract is found in many herbal and dietary supplements (HDS). Green tea extract and, more rarely, ingestion of large amounts of green tea have been implicated in cases of clinically apparent acute liver injury, including instances of acute liver failure and either need for urgent liver transplantation or death."

Read more on the BBC's website, tap here

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