Herb-induced liver injury: Systematic review and meta-analysis

World J Clin Cases. 2021 Jul 16;9(20):5490-5513. doi: 10.12998/wjcc.v9.i20.5490.


Background: The use of herbal supplements and alternative medicines has been increasing in the last decades. Despite popular belief that the consumption of natural products is harmless, herbs might cause injury to various organs, particularly to the liver, which is responsible for their metabolism in the form of herb-induced liver injury (HILI).

Aim: To identify herbal products associated with HILI and describe the type of lesion associated with each product.

Methods: Studies were retrieved using Medical Subject Headings Descriptors combined with Boolean operators. Searches were run on the electronic databases Scopus, Web of Science, MEDLINE, BIREME, LILACS, Cochrane Library for Systematic Reviews, SciELO, Embase, and Opengray.eu. Languages were restricted to English, Spanish, and Portuguese. There was no date of publication restrictions. The reference lists of the studies retrieved were searched manually. To access causality, the Maria and Victorino System of Causality Assessment in Drug Induced Liver Injury was used. Simple descriptive analysis were used to summarize the results.

Results: The search strategy retrieved 5918 references. In the final analysis, 446 references were included, with a total of 936 cases reported. We found 79 types of herbs or herbal compounds related to HILI. He-Shou-Wu, Green tea extract, Herbalife, kava kava, Greater celandine, multiple herbs, germander, hydroxycut, skullcap, kratom, Gynura segetum, garcinia cambogia, ma huang, chaparral, senna, and aloe vera were the most common supplements with HILI reported. Most of these patients had complete clinical recovery (82.8%). However, liver transplantation was necessary for 6.6% of these cases. Also, chronic liver disease and death were observed in 1.5% and 10.4% of the cases, respectively.

Conclusion: HILI is normally associated with a good prognosis, once the implied product is withdrawn. Nevertheless, it is paramount to raise awareness in the medical and non-medical community of the risks of the indiscriminate use of herbal products.

Keywords: Dietary supplements; Drug induced liver injury; Herb-induced liver injury; Herbal hepatotoxicity; Liver transplantation.