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Antibiotic overuse puts liver function in danger

Testing the Limits

Here’s my favorite fact about the liver: If as much as one quarter of a healthy liver is removed, the organ can fully regenerate itself, growing back to its normal size and shape.

That’s a neat trick, but it’s just one of the many wonders of the liver.

Over the past year we’ve seen stacks of studies that underline the importance of vitamin D intake. Well, the liver actually produces vitamin D. And then stores it. And then performs hundreds of other essential tasks – everything from regulating blood sugar to processing every nutrient absorbed in the intestines.

But even the mighty liver has its limits, which many of us test every day without knowing.

This is your liver on drugs

One of the most common causes of acute liver failure is drug-induced liver injury (DILI).

About five years ago, researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine began testing patients with DILI to record the specific source of their injury. When Indiana team had gathered information on 300 patients, they analyzed the data and published the following results in the journal Gastroenterology:

  • Nearly 75 percent of the injuries were caused by the use of an individual prescription drug
  • Antibiotics accounted for the majority of DILIs
  • Eighteen percent were caused by a combination of two or more drugs or supplements
  • Nine percent were caused by dietary supplements alone (weight loss formulas and muscle-building supplements accounted for the large majority of these)
  • Patients with diabetes tended to have more severe DILIs

Cases of acetaminophen liver injury were excluded from the study.

An American Gastroenterological Association press release about the Indiana research notes that DILI is the most common reason early tests of new drugs are abandoned, the most common reason drugs fail to be approved, and the most common reason drugs are withdrawn or restricted after they’ve been approved.

Call in support

Antibiotics are commonly overused – often prescribed for viral problems, which antibiotics can’t treat. But if you have a health challenge that requires frequent or multiple antibiotic use, you can take these basic steps to help keep your liver in good working order:

  • Eat fresh, whole foods
  • Exercise regularly
  • Keep weight down
  • Talk to your doctor about taking supplements that support liver function: vitamins C and E, zinc, lecithin, and B vitamins
  • Talk to your doctor about taking two herbal extracts – milk thistle and turmeric root – that have been shown to support liver function

Then you can further help your liver by avoiding:

  • Foods that are highly processed
  • Foods that contain chemicals (preservatives, dyes, etc.)
  • Synthetic medications (especially acetaminophen)
  • Aerosol products (cleaners, spray paint, insecticides, etc.)

You can find more information about liver support in the e-Alert “Always at Your Side” (10/6/03).

Sources:
“Causes, Clinical Features, and Outcomes From a Prospective Study of Drug-Induced Liver Injury in the United States” Gastroenterology, Published online ahead of print 9/18/08, gastrojournal.org
“Antibiotics: Single Largest Class of Drugs Causing Liver Injury” American Gastroenterological Association press release, 12/1/08, eurekalert.org