Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Case for Protecting Your Liver

Reading this headline, you probably think this blog is going to be all about alcohol consumption and a spirited view of the history of Carrie Nation.  Don’t know about her? She was the little lady with the hatchet and leader of the Temperance Movement in the US, which led to Prohibition and the growth of the crime families in America.

Well, that would be an incorrect assumption about dear old Carrie. Sure, alcohol can contribute to problems in your liver functioning because of the damage excessive intake of ETOH ravages this vital organ.  However, have you noticed the back-and-forth controversy about the place of ETOH (red wine in particular) in your health plan? Some say that, in moderation, red wine is good for you, other studies point to ETOH intake in women to an increase in breast cancer. What is a confused consumer to do? I, for one, would look at the number of people in the study, who did the study and what the “p” was. What’s a “p?” It should be less than .05 (more like .01) or it’s not worth considering because it could have just happen by dumb luck or chance.

And while I’m at it, may I tell you that in ancient times it was the liver and not the heart that was seen as the most vital of organs and they were absolutely right. Your heart is simply a pump that can be replaced mechanically now or you can get a spare from a donor. The liver, however, is an incredibly complex and necessary organ for everything that happens in your body.  Want to get a bit of information on this? Try reading up on the bane of all premed students, the Krebs Cycle. Outside of the brain, it is probably the liver that is the most important organ in your body.

Perusing items I had collected in my handy Evernote blog folder, I was originally thinking of the Mediterranean diet and its connection to maintaining good cognition in older adults. I’m all for anything that helps you maintain cognitive process as we all age. But, while looking at the article, which turned out to be written from an abstract of a conference presentation, another item caught my eye and it was on the liver.

The actual substance of the article was the need to consider how our precious liver is affected by everything that we put into our mouths, but specifically supplements. Common beliefs seem to point to an increasing need for OTC supplements to help maintain everything from our immune system to our ability to solve complex problems. Believe it? Could be hype and not have that “p value” we really need to know about. If you want real information on supplements and even meds that can cause liver toxicity, here’s where to look: The Drug-induced Liver Injury Network.

Myriad healthcare professionals, including those who man poison hot lines, point to the fact that the FDA (ineffective though it may be in a number of cases) is even worse when it comes to supplements.  The FDA does little, if anything, to control or test any of them. You are on your own like a baby playing with a razor blade while its parent watches to see if an injury occurs. Sorry for my lack of understanding of this understaffed agency.

According to one expert, the worst supplement offender was the bodybuilding category. This category has shown an increase in liver toxicity cases from 2% to 7% and dietary and herbal supplements accounted for up to 20% of cases of liver damage. So, are your supplements safe and do they really do what you expect, what unlisted materials are in them or just how much (or even any) of the supposed supplement is in the product (St. John’s Wort was an example). BTW, this particular supplement has been seen as problematic in terms of the liver.

Recently, too, a celebrity trainer was found to have given her team caffeine supplements to help them lose weight. This sets a very bad precedent for teens who are obsessed with weight control and the newly discovered "thigh gap" that has become so fashionable. These tablets are not safe, are easily available and should not be used by anyone

Supplements, should you take them or not? You have to decide, but don’t do it because you’ve seen a TV commercial or a magazine ad that tells you the wonders you will experience. One of the most offensive of these advertisers has just been fined millions of dollars for his less-than-honest presentations.  Another supplement has been found to be involved in the formation of blood clots in men who use it. As I always say: Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).