Australian Researchers Find Bak Kut Teh Can Cause Liver Damage When Taken With Medicine

University of Adelaide's Professor Roger Byard said the ingredients of bak kut teh can cause damage to the liver regardless of consuming it at home or in a restaurant.

Cover image via Tony Lewis/InDaily & Roti & Rice

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Researchers from the University of Adelaide have found that Chinese herbal soup bak kut teh can cause liver damage when it is taken with prescription medication

The research was published in the journal Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology last month.

"Our team studied the recipes of four locally purchased packet mixes of bak kut teh, otherwise known as meat bone tea," the university's newsroom quoted Professor Roger Byard, the George Richard Marks Chair of Pathology at the campus, as saying.

"When mixed with liver cells, the ingredients killed up to 83% in one concentrated soup formula."

"People have been warned for some time that herbal medicines and therapies may have harmful side effects that can include significant liver damage."

"In rare cases, this has required transplantation and even led to death."

"For the first time, a laboratory study by the University of Adelaide has shown that foods containing herbs, such as the soup bak kut teh, may also be toxic to liver cells."

Image for illustration purposes only.

Image via Lazada

Byard said people with underlying liver disease or who are taking prescription medications should be aware of the potential side effect of consuming the popular dish

According to him, having the soup at home or at a restaurant can pose risks to the liver.

"If unexpected liver damage is encountered at autopsy, information on possible recent ingestion of herbal food preparations should be sought, as routine toxicology screening will not identify the active components," he added.

"Liver damage may, therefore, be caused not only by herbal medicines but possibly herbal products contained in food."

He said the ingredients of the herbal mix should be accurately labeled so that further studies can be carried out to identify the specific herbal substances that are toxic.

Professor Roger Byard.

Image via University of Adelaide

It is noted that the ingredients of bak kut teh varied from one brand to another but all four samples studied demonstrated significant levels of toxicity

The ingredients of the four formulations include:

– Formulation one: Dried hawthorn
– Formulation two: Goji berries, ginseng, bark, and dried mushrooms
– Formulation three: Polygonatum odoratum, ligusticum chuanxiong, codonopsis pilosula, cinnamomum cassia, angelica sinensis, illicium verum, piper nigrum, and Eugenia caryophyllata
– Formulation four: Spices, pepper, and salt

Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News reported that the formulation that recorded the highest level of toxicity was the one that Byard took from his own pantry, which he found the discovery disturbing.

The soup he made out of the package from his pantry killed 83% of the cells when it was undiluted. Even when it was diluted 10 times, it killed 15% of the cells.

Image for illustration purposes only.

Image via Pure Glutton

The professor said the lack of information on the packages made it unclear what causes liver damage but advised the public not to panic as many people have had the soup and do not encounter a problem

"In fact, I love this soup," he said, adding "I've had it for years. I've stopped taking it by the way."

"The problem with herbal preparations — and we've investigated herbal medicines for years — is that we don't know the exact ingredients, and because they're metabolised by the liver, it can have some very nasty side effects."

"People say, 'Well, herbs are natural, therefore they're ok and safe', but if anything has a therapeutical effect it can have a therapeutical side effect and there's a whole lot of things that happen like herb-herb interactions or herb-drug interactions that we just don't know what's going on and that's the scary thing for me I think."

The study shows the effect of four different bak kut teh formulations on the cells after 48 hours of exposure.

Image via Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology via Springer Link

The research was conducted after one patient in Victoria, Australia suffered from liver damage. The victim consumed bak kut teh while she was on medication that lowered her blood lipid levels, reported ABC News.

A separate woman in Adelaide died after taking a herbal preparation for inflammatory bowel disease, which Byard said the cause of death was liver failure and liver necrosis.

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