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‘Bacteria in Herbalife damages liver’

Two years ago liver doctors sounded the alarm about cases of liver damage in users of Herbalife products. They were unable to say which component in Herbalife products was causing the liver damage, but researchers at the University of Bern made an attempt to do so in an article published this year in the Journal of Hepatology. They found the bacteria Bacillus subtilis in Herbalife products.

In the article the doctors discuss two cases of people who became ill after using Herbalife products: a man aged 78 and a woman aged 50. The man's urine had turned dark brown, he had hepatitis and had been feeling unwell for a couple of weeks. He had been using the Herbalife F1 Shake [Strawberry and Cappuccino flavours] for three years on his daughter’s advice [she was a Herbalife salesperson], as well as various other medicines. According to the analyses, the man had a liver complaint. When the doctors took him off the shake his blood values recovered, but they deteriorated again later. The doctors gave the man corticosteroids and ursodeoxycholic acid, after which he recovered completely. You can see the fluctuations in the man’s blood values in the graph below.

The woman sold Herbalife supplements. She took half a dozen different Herbalife supplements, including the Personalized Protein Powder Mix Formula 3. She had stomach pain and hepatitis and the doctors found signs of liver damage in her blood. They got the woman to stop taking the supplements and the graph below shows how the liver values in her blood improved.

The researchers examined samples from the livers of the man and the woman and found signs of damage in both. The doctors turned the supplements that the men and women had used inside out, but found no contaminants: no heavy metals, no pesticides, no antibiotics, nothing. But when they examined the Herbalife products for micro-organisms, they did come across something. The meal substitutes the man and woman had been using contained the bacteria
Bacillus subtilis. [see photo.] This was the cause of the liver complaints, according to the researchers.


Honestly speaking, we’re not sure what to make of this. As far as we know, B. Subtilis is found in pretty much everything, and it’s not particularly dangerous. [Wikipedia] Some studies even regard it as a probiotic. It would seem pretty unlikely then that B. subtilis is the cause of such serious liver damage.

J Hepatol. 2009 Jan;50(1):111-7.

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