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Severe hepatotoxicity by Herbalife

5 May, 2009
Severe hepatotoxicity following ingestion of Herbalife nutritional supplements contaminated with Bacillus subtilis.F. Stickel, S. Droz, E. Patsenker, K. Bögli-Stuber, B. Aebi, S. Leib. Journal of Hepatology, Volume 50, Issue 1, Pages 111-117. Full Text PDF. Abstract. See also: Are herbals as safe as their advocates believe? Journal of Hepatology, Volume 50, Issue 1, Pages 13-16. L. Seeff & Spanish reports of hepatotoxicity associated with Herbalife® products. Journal of Hepatology, Volume 49, Issue 2, Pages 289-290.G. Manso, L. López-Rivas, J. Duque, E. Salgueiro.
Nutritional supplements are widely used. Recently, liver injury after consumption of Herbalife® preparations was reported but the underlying pathogenesis remained cryptic.
Methods
Two patients presented with cholestatic hepatitis and pruritus, and cirrhosis, respectively. Viral, alcoholic, metabolic, autoimmune, neoplastic, vascular liver diseases and synthetic drugs as the precipitating causes of liver injury were excluded. However, both patients reported long-term consumption of Herbalife® products. All Herbalife® products were tested for contamination with drugs, pesticides, heavy metals, and softeners, and examined for microbial contamination according to standard laboratory procedures. Bacteria isolated from the samples were identified as Bacillus subtilis by sequencing the 16S rRNA and gyrB genes.
Results
Causality between consumption of Herbalife® products and disease according to CIOMS was scored “probable” in both cases. Histology showed cholestatic and lobular/portal hepatitis with cirrhosis in one patient, and biliary fibrosis with ductopenia in the other. No contamination with chemicals or heavy metals was detected, and immunological testing showed no drug hypersensitivity. However, samples of Herbalife® products ingested by both patients showed growth of Bacillus subtilis of which culture supernatants showed dose- and time-dependent hepatotoxicity.
Conclusions
Two novel incidents of severe hepatic injury following intake of Herbalife® products contaminated with Bacillus subtilis emphasize its potential hepatotoxicity.

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