‘The food supplement that ruined my liver’

‘The food supplement that ruined my liver’

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Jim McCants in hospital Image copyright Jim McCants

Jim McCants took green tea capsules in a drive to get healthy in middle age. His doctors now say they left him needing an urgent liver transplant, writes the BBC’s Tristan Quinn.

It should have been one of the happiest days of his life. But Jim McCants looks back on his youngest son’s high school graduation with mixed emotions. As he sat down next to his wife Cathleen in the university auditorium, just outside Dallas, Texas, she turned to look at him.

“She said ‘Do you feel OK?'” Jim recalls. “I said, ‘Yeah I feel fine, why?’ ‘Your face is yellow, your eyes are yellow, you look terrible.’ When I looked in the mirror it was shocking.”

It was shocking partly because Jim, then 50, had been working on improving his lifestyle and losing weight, focusing on eating more healthily and taking regular exercise.

“My dad had a heart attack at aged 59 and he did not make it,” says Jim. “There’s a lot that he missed out on with us and I was determined to do what I can to take care of myself as best I can, so that I don’t miss out.”

But soon after his son’s graduation, Jim was admitted to hospital with a suspected liver injury.

Image copyright Jim McCants

Image caption Jim, his son and his wife, at his son’s graduation

Trying to identify the cause of Jim’s liver injury, those treating him ruled out alcohol.

“For the last 30 years I drank maybe a six-pack of beer a year, no wine. So alcohol was not a big part of my life,” Jim says.

They also ruled out prescription drugs – he wasn’t taking any at the time – and smoking, something he had never done.

“Then my hepatologist drilled in to, ‘What about any over-the-counter supplements?'” says Jim.


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Watch Vitamin pills: Miracle or Myth? on Horizon, on BBC Two, at 21:00 on Thursday 25 October

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BBC Food: Can a vitamin pill a day keep the doctor away?


As part of his mid-life health kick, Jim had started taking a green tea supplement because he had heard it might have cardiac benefits. These supplements have grown in popularity in recent years, often breathlessly promoted online for their antioxidant benefits, and their supposed ability to aid weight loss and prevent cancer.

A recent investigation by the European Food Safety Authority into the safety of green tea concluded that catechins from green tea drinks are “generally safe”, but when taken as supplements catechin doses at or above 800mg per day “may pose health concerns”. The EFSA could not identify a safe dose on the basis of available data and called for more research to be carried out.

The day after Jim was told he needed a liver transplant, amazingly he was told a suitable liver had been found. “I was elated. The phone call that there was a match gave me hope that there would be something positive on the other side of this for me,” he says.

The liver transplant saved Jim’s life. But four years later he still has serious health problems including kidney disease that may require dialysis and a transplant in the future. He sees his liver and kidney doctors twice a year, and lives with chronic abdominal pain.

“My life before was pretty active. And now it’s much more sedentary and I struggle with fatigue,” he says.

Read: The dying officer treated for cancer with baking soda

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