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November 10, 2019

Popular dietary supplement kratom may cause liver damage

Einstein study adds to evidence of troublesome side effects

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Kratom, a popular herbal supplement, may cause liver damage, according to a study conducted by researchers at Albert Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia.

Kratom, a popular herbal supplement made from Mitragyna speciosa, an evergreen tree native to Southeast Asia, may cause liver damage, according to new preliminary findings.

Some consumers use kratom to reduce fatigue, boost their energy or provide pain relief. It also sometimes is used to help with opioid withdrawal. 

While kratom acts like a stimulant at low doses, researchers said it acts like an opioid when taken in large amounts, according to U.S. News & World Report. They said kratom has been linked to more than 90 deaths. 

The researchers presented their findings Saturday at the meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases held in Boston.

Dr. Victor Navarro, head of gastroenterology at the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia, and colleagues investigated 404 cases of liver damage from dietary supplements. Eight of the cases that occurred between 2007 and 2017 were linked to kratom.

All eight patients experienced symptoms of liver damage after using kratom for two to six weeks. Their symptoms included itching, jaundice, stomach pain and fever. Six of the eight patients had to be hospitalized, but no one needed a liver transplant.

Liver injury is a known risk of using kratom and these eight cases add to the evidence, William Eggleston, a clinical assistant professor at the Binghamton University's School of Pharmacy, who was not involved in the study, told U.S. News & World Report.

"Maybe we need to re-evaluate whether or not this drug should be available as a dietary supplement," he said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't need to approve dietary supplements, but in September it issued a warning against using kratom because of addiction-like qualities.

"Poison control centers in the United States received about 1,800 reports involving use of kratom from 2011 through 2017 including reports of death," according to The Mayo Clinic. "About half of these exposures resulted in serious negative outcomes such as seizures and high blood pressure."

Additional side effects include weight loss, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, hallucinations, trouble breathing, seizures, coma and death.

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