Traditional Chinese Medicine Induced Liver Injury

J Clin Transl Hepatol. 2014 Jun;2(2):80-94. doi: 10.14218/JCTH.2014.00003. Epub 2014 Jun 15.


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is popular around the world and encompasses many different practices with particular emphasis on herbal TCM. Using the PubMed database, a literature search was undertaken to assess the extent herbal TCM products exert rare hepatotoxicity. Analysis of reported cases revealed numerous specified herbal TCM products with potential hepatotoxicity. Among these were An Shu Ling, Bai Fang, Bai Xian Pi, Ban Tu Wan, Bo He, Bo Ye Qing Niu Dan, Bofu Tsu Sho San, Boh Gol Zhee, Cang Er Zi, Chai Hu, Chaso, Chi R Yun, Chuan Lian Zi, Ci Wu Jia, Da Chai Hu Tang, Da Huang, Du Huo, Gan Cao, Ge Gen, Ho Shou Wu, Hu Bohe You, Hu Zhang, Huang Qin, Huang Yao Zi, Hwang Geun Cho, Ji Gu Cao, Ji Ji, Ji Xue Cao, Jiguja, Jin Bu Huan, Jue Ming Zi, Kamishoyosan, Kudzu, Lei Gong Teng, Long Dan Xie Gan Tang, Lu Cha, Ma Huang, Mao Guo Tian Jie Cai, Onshido, Polygonum multiflorum, Qian Li Guang, Ren Shen, Sairei To, Shan Chi, Shen Min, Shi Can, Shi Liu Pi, Shou Wu Pian, Tian Hua Fen, White flood, Wu Bei Zi, Xi Shu, Xiao Chai Hu Tang, Yin Chen Hao, Zexie, Zhen Chu Cao, and various unclassified Chinese herbal mixtures. Causality was firmly established for a number of herbal TCM products by a positive reexposure test result, the liver specific scale of CIOMS (Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences), or both. Otherwise, the quality of case data was mixed, especially regarding analysis of the herb ingredients because of adulteration with synthetic drugs, contamination with heavy metals, and misidentification. In addition, non-herbal TCM elements derived from Agaricus blazei, Agkistrodon, Antelope, Bombyx, Carp, Fish gallbladder, Phellinus, Scolopendra, Scorpio, and Zaocys are also known or potential hepatotoxins. For some patients, the clinical course was severe, with risks for acute liver failure, liver transplantation requirement, and lethality. In conclusion, the use of few herbal TCM products may rarely be associated with hepatotoxicity in some susceptible individuals, necessitating a stringent pretreatment evaluation of the risk/benefit ratio, based on results of multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials.

Keywords: Herb induced liver injury; Herbal hepatotoxicity; Herbs; Traditional Chinese herbal medicine; Traditional Chinese medicine.

Publication types

  • Review