New Research Says This Super Popular Drink Might Cause Liver Damage—Here's What a Hepatologist Wants You to Know

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You already know that drinking alcohol can wreak havoc on your liver. (And if you don’t, well, here are more details on those dangers.) Now, a new study links a drink popular specifically for its health benefits to potential liver damage.

According to the study, more than 200 cases of acute liver injury have been linked to an ingredient common in what’s generally regarded as a super healthy beverage—but it may not be as dire as it sounds.

The study, reported in late 2022 but only just now gaining traction, correlates green tea extract to liver damage.

Related: One Common Habit That Could Be Damaging Your Liver

Is Green Tea Bad for Your Liver?

Green tea in and of itself likely isn’t going to jeopardize your liver health. The study itself notes that actual green tea rarely causes any problems for otherwise healthy individuals, but that concentrated green tea extract—often found in unregulated herbal supplements and diet pills—can put you at risk of serious medical issues, with some even requiring a liver transplant.

“Standard preparations of green tea are less likely to cause liver toxicity,” Dr. David Kim, MD, hepatologist and gastroenterologist at GI Alliance in Arlington Heights, Illinois, tells Parade. “Liver damage has been more commonly associated with taking green tea extract (GTE), which contains higher doses of EGCG.”

Another important factor to consider: The main patient in the study got an IV of green tea extract, which is, well, pretty extreme.

“The patient in the article received green tea extract intravenously. This is a concentrated form of the biologically active compounds in green tea,” Dr. David D. Clarke, MD, board-certified internist and gastroenterologist and president of the Psychophysiologic Disorders Association, points out. “A large majority of reports of liver damage are associated with GTE taken orally in capsule form. Both the capsule and the intravenous form of GTE result in much larger amounts of potentially toxic compounds reaching the liver than would be the case for ordinary green tea. There have been a few people who have suffered liver toxicity from drinking green tea, but they appear to have taken large amounts.”

Related: 12 Foods That Are Good For Your Liver

What Are Symptoms of Liver Damage From Green Tea?

If you have liver damage from too much green tea or green tea catechins or green tea extract, there will be signs, some of which are vague enough to easily be mistaken for other medical issues—so be sure to see a doctor if you’re concerned. These symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, often considered a tell-tale sign of liver problems)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Dr. Clarke notes that mild liver damage usually starts with loss of appetite and fatigue, while more acute or severe liver damage has other symptoms. If you ever notice that you have jaundice, see a physician immediately.

Related: How to Keep Your Liver Healthy

How Much Green Tea Is Too Much Green Tea?

Generally, if you’re healthy, you’d have to drink a lot of green tea for this to be a problem.

“A review of the literature by the European Food Safety Authority found that doses greater than 800 mg of EGCG (Epigallocatechin-3-gallate, one of the catechins in green tea) were more likely to cause hepatotoxicity,” Dr. Kim notes. “For comparison, a cup of brewed green tea typically contains 100 to 300 mg EGCG.”

“The data does not allow a definitive answer, and there also appears to be significant variation among people in their susceptibility to liver damage from green tea,” Dr. Clarke points out. But available reports suggest much larger than usual amounts (the usual would be one to four cups) need to be ingested before there is any risk of liver toxicity.”

So if you’re otherwise healthy and not predisposed to liver issues, unless you’re drinking a gallon of green tea a day (in which case we have other concerns, like your caffeine intake), you’re probably safe.

Related: Health Benefits of Tea

Is Liver Damage From Green Tea Curable?

The good news, aside from the fact that, again, most liver damage reported was from green tea extract and not from drinking regular green tea, is that it’s usually reversible, especially if you get prompt medical attention.

“The liver has remarkable regenerative properties so usually patients recover fully,” Dr. Clarke says. “But in a few severe cases, the damage requires an emergency liver transplant to save the patient’s life.”

Dr. Kim concurs, adding, “Most cases of hepatotoxicity resolve spontaneously or with the administration of acetylcysteine.”

Related: Different Types of Tea: Everything You Need to Know

Should I Avoid Green Tea Entirely?

If you’re that worried about your liver and it’ll give you peace of mind, knock yourself out. That said, according to Dr. Kim, most people don’t have to worry about this.

“Taken traditionally as brewed tea has only rarely been linked with liver injury,” he advises. “The more common association with liver toxicity has been seen when GTE has been taken in a pill or powder form as a way to lose weight.”

How rarely? Very rarely, according to Dr. Clarke: “Hundreds of millions of people consume green tea daily with only five to eight cases of toxicity reported annually—and most of those were caused by GTE.”

Next, The Surprising Habit That Gives You a Healthy Liver

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