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Man given two weeks to live after taking popular weight-loss product purchased online
Matthew Whitby needed an emergency liver transplant after taking a protein powder containing green tea extract.
A Western Australian man has told how he lost his liver after taking popular weight-loss products widely available in protein powders and supplements.
- Mr Whitby needed an emergency liver transplant after taking supplements
- Doctors believe green tea extract is the most likely culprit for his liver failure
- The Therapeutic Goods Administration is investigating the case
Matthew Whitby was two weeks from death and needed an emergency liver transplant after taking a protein powder containing green tea extract and a supplement with garcinia cambogia — a tropical fruit used in weight-loss supplements.
Green tea extract is a concentrated form of the popular tea and is favoured for its purported weight loss properties and anti-oxidant effects.
But in some susceptible individuals, doctors say it can cause liver failure even in moderate doses, and has been reportedly linked to dozens of cases of liver failure around the world.
There have also been cases of liver damage linked to garcinia cambogia.
'Close to death'
Mr Whitby was so close to death after taking a protein powder and supplement containing the extract that he had to accept a donated liver with Hepatitis B.
The young father will have to take a raft of medications for the rest of his life and has spoken out to warn others.
"I didn't think something you could buy online or just over the counter did the damage that it did to me,'' he said.
"They didn't say anything about 'could cause liver failure'."
Taxpayers will have to foot the estimated $150,000 bill for Mr Whitby's liver transplant, yet Australian products containing green tea extract typically contain no warnings.
And, because green tea is technically a food, it often falls into a regulatory mine field.
Photo Mr Whitby was so close to death he had to accept a donated liver with Hepatitis B.
Products which make a therapeutic claim, like the garcinia cambogia supplement are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
But in products such as protein powder, they are usually regulated through Food Standards Australia and New Zealand with enforcement by state health authorities.
The TGA said it was investigating the case as a part of a wider review, "the results of which will be made public if there is sufficient evidence of a safety issue to warrant further action".
Mr Whitby's doctors have said the green tea extract is the most likely culprit for his liver failure, but said as there are many ingredients in supplements and powders, it was hard to make a definitive call.
Experts said it was still safe for consumers to drink green tea in moderate amounts, with problems more likely in the tea's concentrated form.
Rising liver damage linked to herbal remedies
Mr Whitby's doctors at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth said they were not surprised by what happened to the healthy 27-year-old.
Liver specialist Professor Gary Jeffrey works in the liver transplant centre of Western Australia and said doctors were seeing what they believe is more liver damage from herbal remedies and herbal extracts.
"We would during the year have one or two people with liver failure due to herbal remedies," he said.
"This would be the most severe form we've seen.
Thought to affect how the body handles blood sugar and metabolism.
Most of the other cases we've seen have resolved spontaneously."
While the question of warnings was up to regulators, Professor Jeffreys said he personally would like to see a product insert which listed the benefits and risks of the supplement.
"People who have normal liver function can develop liver problems with herbal extract toxicity," he said.
"There have been a number of countries around the world that have removed slimming agents from the market because of the increased rate of liver damage."
What is in your supplement?
Gallery Click through a random sample of products the ABC selected containing green tea extract
How did it happen?
The TGA said one of the products Mr Whitby consumed was a protein powder called HydroxyBurn Elite supplied by BSc.
There is nothing illegal about supplying products containing green tea extract and it is an ingredient approved for sale in Australia.
What is a safe green tea dose?
- Green tea drinks are very safe
- Green tea extract is largely safe
- In susceptible individuals there is no safe dose
- Higher doses increase risk of damage
The product is no longer available on the market.
Experts think the liver failure related to green tea extract can occur because of catechins, the same element that makes it potentially beneficial, specifically a sub-group of catechins called EGCG.
"The exact mechanism of the green tea extracts on the liver isn't actually known but it can cause, at its worst, liver death," Professor Jeffrey said.
Clinical pharmacologist Professor Ric Day from St Vincent's Hospital said cases like Mr Whitby's were known as "idiosyncratic" reactions and could happen with virtually any medication.
Photo Professor Day said there was an element of "bad luck" in Mr Whitby's case.
"It is very rare and it seems like some individuals have a particular sensitivity," he said.
"So it's a lot of bad luck generally but the protection is to make sure you've got a reputable source of the drug, that you're not taking more than you should, you're following the instructions.
"A general principle is more might not be better but it might be more toxic in those that are more sensitive."
In a statement the company said it was not aware of the case and the TGA had not notified them of the adverse event.
"In the 14 years we have been producing protein powders with added herbal extracts we have not been notified of any adverse events," the statement said.
"The individual was notably taking a garcinia cambogia supplement as well, which was not our product.
In a year known for the Occupy movement and what became known as the Arab Spring, our lexicographers chose bluster as their Word of the Year for 2012.
(2) Expensively Priced GC Products While some companies do not offer a free trial of Garcinia Cambogia, they try to milk your pockets by charging an arm and a leg for their Garcinia supplements.
Based on 14 years of well tolerated use of our product range, we will not be reconsidering our use of green tea extract."
The garcinia cambogia supplement Mr Whitby took was from a site with an Australian office address in its contact details.
Garcinia cambogia is based on a tropical fruit and gained worldwide popularity after being controversially endorsed by celebrity television doctor Dr Oz.
It has been implicated in some cases of liver damage around the world, and two liver-based adverse reactions in Australia but experts said there was less evidence of its potential risk.
Steve Scarff, the Australian Self-Medication Industry Regulatory and Scientific Affairs Director, said consumer safety was "paramount" and the industry took adverse event reports seriously.
He said Australia had a world-class system for regulating complementary medicines.
"There has been a number of reviews of green tea extract and the conclusion is that it's a low-risk herbal substance," he said.
"There are processes in place to review the safety of ingredients and products."
Who is the regulator?
A spokeswoman for the TGA said the protein powder was not on its register of Therapeutic Goods and some sports supplements were regulated as foods, rather than therapeutic goods.
"The TGA is continuing to investigate the report it received relating to the BSC protein powder and liver failure as part of a larger investigation into this issue, noting that the TGA has not received any other reports of liver failure with this product," she said.
"The results will be made public if there is sufficient evidence of a safety issue to warrant further action."
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Garcinia Cambogia Weight-Loss Pill Is No Miracle
The claims make this supplement tempting, but they're untrue
Garcinia cambogia is hot. Nearly a million Americans each month Google this supposed weight-loss supplement. They're looking for reviews on garcinia cambogia's effectiveness, what kind of side effects it causes, and where they can buy it. My mom recently bought a bottle of the pills at Costco because she saw a segment about garcinia cambogia on a TV show.
Manufacturers claim that garcinia cambogia boosts weight loss by, among other things, "slowing the body's ability to absorb fat," "replacing fat with toned muscles," and even improving your mood and suppressing "the drive to react to stressful situations with food." How, you may ask? It's mostly pinned on hydroxycitric acid (HCA), a substance found in garcinia cambogia that appears to inhibit an enzyme called citrate lyase and interferes with fatty acid metabolism.
“HCA does do that—but in a petri dish," says Steven Heymsfield, M.D., the former head of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La. "Converting that to actual weight loss in humans would take 1,000 steps beyond that," he says.
Back in 1998, Heymsfield published the first randomized controlled trial on the effectiveness of garcinia cambogia, in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He found no weight-loss benefits. Heymsfield, who continues to study the topic of weight-loss supplements at Pennington, says that about a dozen negative studies have since been published about garcinia cambogia.
With that being said however, the product itself does live up to expectations which is why it is included on our top list.
But that has not stopped marketers of the supplement, he says, from “weaving a story with obscure facts. Maybe each fragment has some validity, but if you wind it together it makes no sense at all.”
His original study, conducted by Columbia University’s Obesity Research Center, looked at 135 overweight men and women age 18 to 65; about half were given garcinia cambogia and the other half a placebo three times a day before meals. Both groups ate a high-fiber diet and returned for evaluation every two weeks. At the end of the 12-week trial, there were no important differences in weight loss between the two groups.
A review of 12 trials involving garcinia products published in the Journal of Obesity in 2011 came to the same conclusion. Another study by researchers at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia, and published in 2013 in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that overall the evidence for garcinia cambogia was “not compelling.”
Tried to lose weight?
What worked for you? Let us know in the comments section below.
As for garcinia cambogia's side effects, controlled studies and animal studies have found very few, although Heymsfield says, “I don’t think it’s 100 percent safe.”
In 2009 the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers about Hydroxycut, a product line containing garcinia cambogia and several other ingredients, based on serious reports of health problems, including jaundice, elevated liver enzymes, liver damage requiring a transplant, and one death from liver failure. The FDA said it was unable to determine exactly which ingredients were associated with the liver injuries. (Hydroxycut's manufacturer, Iovate Health Sciences, withdrew the products, though it has since returned a reformulated product to the market containing no garcinia cambogia.)
“Being obese is difficult because only some of it is related to self-control,” Heymsfield says. “And it’s not easy to lose weight in our environment. Just preventing further weight gain is an accomplishment for some people.” The biggest problem with garcinia cambogia, Heymsfield says, besides being a waste of money, is that it distracts people from concentrating on the important things when it comes to weight loss: increasing your activity level and eating a healthier diet.
As for my mom, she returned the bottle to Costco and got her $20 back.