Herbal hepatotoxicity in traditional and modern medicine: actual key issues and new encouraging steps

Front Pharmacol. 2015 Apr 23;6:72. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2015.00072. eCollection 2015.


Plants are natural producers of chemical substances, providing potential treatment of human ailments since ancient times. Some herbal chemicals in medicinal plants of traditional and modern medicine carry the risk of herb induced liver injury (HILI) with a severe or potentially lethal clinical course, and the requirement of a liver transplant. Discontinuation of herbal use is mandatory in time when HILI is first suspected as diagnosis. Although, herbal hepatotoxicity is of utmost clinical and regulatory importance, lack of a stringent causality assessment remains a major issue for patients with suspected HILI, while this problem is best overcome by the use of the hepatotoxicity specific CIOMS (Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences) scale and the evaluation of unintentional reexposure test results. Sixty five different commonly used herbs, herbal drugs, and herbal supplements and 111 different herbs or herbal mixtures of the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) are reported causative for liver disease, with levels of causality proof that appear rarely conclusive. Encouraging steps in the field of herbal hepatotoxicity focus on introducing analytical methods that identify cases of intrinsic hepatotoxicity caused by pyrrolizidine alkaloids, and on omics technologies, including genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, and assessing circulating micro-RNA in the serum of some patients with intrinsic hepatotoxicity. It remains to be established whether these new technologies can identify idiosyncratic HILI cases. To enhance its globalization, herbal medicine should universally be marketed as herbal drugs under strict regulatory surveillance in analogy to regulatory approved chemical drugs, proving a positive risk/benefit profile by enforcing evidence based clinical trials and excellent herbal drug quality.

Keywords: evidence based trials; hepatotoxicity; herb induced liver injury; herbal hepatotoxicity; herbal modern medicine; herbal traditional Chinese medicine; herbal traditional medicine; herbs.

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