Alternative medicine reason for death in whopping 42% of chronic liver disease patients, finds study

The study was conducted by clinician-scientists of Rajagiri Hospital in Aluva, Kerala, and the findings were published in the journal Medicine.

BySumit Jha

Published Mar 29, 2023 | 9:00 AMUpdatedMar 29, 2023 | 9:00 AM

Chronic liver disease: The study revealed that immune boosters contained detectable levels of heavy metals such arsenic, lead, mercury, and various hepatotoxic phytochemicals. (Twitter/theliverdr)

In a study, it was found that a whopping 42 percent of patients who had chronic liver disease died due to complementary and alternative medicine.

The researchers found that Ayurvedic herbal supplements and homoeopathic medicine, which were used as “immune boosters” (IBs), caused severe damage to the liver and, in some cases, even deaths of chronic liver disease patients.

The study was conducted by clinician-scientists of Rajagiri Hospital in Aluva, Kerala, published in the journal Medicine.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, when the government put complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)-related supplements — such as IBs — in the national guidelines for preventing and treating Covid-19, many of these chronic liver disease patients took these supplements.

The study

Between April 2020 and May 2021, researchers screened 1,022 patients with cirrhosis and 178 of those were found to have consumed complementary and alternative medicines.

The researchers identified 19 patients temporarily associated with IBs used for Covid-19 prevention within three months of symptomatic presentation. They were suffering from cirrhosis, jaundice, ascites, hepatic encephalopathy, or their combination related to IBs use.

At the time of admission, 14 patients had jaundice, nine had ascites, two presented with acute kidney injury, and one had overt encephalopathy.

Eight patients died at the end of the follow-up period of 180 days due to portal hypertension and liver failure complications.

When the researcher analysed the IBs, they found detectable levels of heavy metals such arsenic, lead, mercury, and various hepatotoxic phytochemicals.

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IB-related deaths

According to the study, the causality assessment tools revealed that decompensation (failure of organ) in the form of portal hypertension events or liver failure was temporarily associated with IB consumption in the absence of other competing causes.

“We examined the liver histopathology of patients with herbal and homeopathic supplement-related liver injury and found predominantly neutrophil-type inflammation associated with various types of necrosis (death of cells or tissues),” reads the study.

The study claims that the IB-associated liver injury led to death in 42 percent of the patients with chronic liver disease in the cohort study.

People were tricked: TheLiverDoc

The lead researcher of the study Dr Cyriac Abby Philips — popularly known by his Twitter handle TheLiverDoc — in a tweet said that at the start of the pandemic, the guidelines from India were unique.

“It also featured prevention and treatment options for Covid from the Ministry of Ayush, the apex pseudoscience promoter in the country. None of these ‘guidelines’ was based on empirical evidence, none based on clinical trials & efficacy/safety of traditional practices against a pandemic of extreme proportions remained unknown,” tweeted Dr Philips.

He said people fell for the “natural & safe ways to combat Covid” hook, line and sinker. “But what they didn’t realise is that unscientific ways of health-seeking behaviour always come at a price, which is what we show in our new paper,” said Dr Philips.

He said that the Ayush industry used the scientifically-sounding, but rationally deprived and illogical word “immune-boosting” to trick people into believing that herbal and dietary supplements could help people combat Covid.

According to him, patients with chronic disease are always easily tricked into using short-cuts to “boost” their health, in the presence of growing science-denialism and anti-vaccine movements across the country.

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Negative effects of ‘immune boosting’

“In our study, we looked at cirrhosis patients who availed “immune boosting” to prevent Covid and describe their outcomes. Close to 10% of stable cirrhosis patients who used immunity boosting developed severe and progressive liver failure and associated complications. Most developed jaundice, fluid in abdomen, and developed brain failure. 42% of these patients DIED without a liver transplant,” said Dr Philips.

The most commonly used immune boosting was Ayurvedic, followed by homoeopathy. Agents causing severe liver injury were giloy, ashwagandha, turmeric, neem, Indian goosberry (amla), holy basil (tulsi), and arsenic trioxide.

Dr Philips and team also analysed products that were retrieved from some patients and found that they contained direct liver toxic plant chemicals, such as glycosides, terpenes, coumarans, and also insecticides, pesticides and industrial solvents.

“We also performed liver biopsies of patients who consented to the same and found that their already weakened liver had large areas damaged and devoid of liver cells due to severe inflammatory damage from multi-herbal insults on the liver. Our paper signifies the importance of scientific communications in public health,” said Dr Philips.

He added all the patients who died in the study would have been alive if they did not opt for such unscientific practices, which were promoted by supposed health regulators, as well as print and visual media.