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Herbal product linked to hepatitis.

An herb used to combat obesity may cause a dangerous inflammation of the liver called hepatitis.

The herb is germander (Teucrium chamaedrys), a member of the mint family whose blossoms are used in teas, tonics, and herbal capsules. Health food stores promote these products as harmless weight-loss methods.

Now, Dominique Larrey of the Saint-Eloi Hospital in Montpellier, France, and his colleagues describe seven cases of hepatitis associated with germander capsules or germander tea. All patients had used the herb for an average of nine weeks, in most cases to lose weight. The researchers could find no other cause of liver disease, such as alcohol abuse or viral infection. Furthermore, the hepatitis vanished when the patients stopped taking germander products. The researchers describe their findings in the July 15 ANNALS OF INTERNAL MEDICINE.

Scientists have yet to identify any chemical in germander that causes liver problems, says Ryan J. Huxtable, a pharmacologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Huxtable wrote an editorial accompanying the research report.

Germander isn't the only herb known to cause liver disease, Huxtable adds. He notes that comfrey, widely used as a digestive aid, can also cause hepatitis. He believes cases of herbal poisoning are vastly underreported. Illnesses caused by toxic herbs typically become chronic and thus can be difficult to recognize as herb-related.

Although herbs add spice to life, Huxtable recommends a cautious approach to herbal medicines or teas. He advises against daily use of such products and warns parents not to give herbal preparations to infants or young children, who lack the enzymes needed to metabolize potentially toxic chemicals.
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Title Annotation:germander
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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