Sipping on organic green tea in the mornings is a great way to help protect your brain from dementia, encourage a healthy metabolism, and boost insulin sensitivity (1). But popping a few green tea extract pills every day is a totally different story. 50-year-old Jim McCants of Prosper, Texas learned this the hard way, and the lesson nearly cost him his life.
Working as a finance manager, McCants began to feel wary of his health. The fact that he was approaching the age that his father died prompted his decision to start taking his health seriously, and start training to become a physician’s assistant.
“My dad had a heart attack at aged 59 and he did not make it. 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,” he says (2).
He developed very active habits, incorporating 5 or 6 workouts into his weekly routine, and he started to take Vitacost green tea extract supplements to encourage weight loss.
“It was shocking because I’d only heard about the benefits,” remembers Jim. “I’d not heard about any problems.”
Then, 2 to 3 months after starting to take the supplements, McCants’ body started to react. While he and his wife, Cathleen, were attending their youngest son’s graduation, he suddenly began to show signs that something had gone very wrong.
“Your face is yellow, your eyes are yellow, you look terrible,” McCants recalls Cathleen saying to him.
Alarmed by his sudden change of appearance, McCants admitted himself to a nearby hospital, suspecting some type of liver damage. His medical team asked him about his lifestyle to help rule out what possible toxins could be putting so much stress on his liver. They ruled out smoking, alcohol, and prescription drugs, since McCants hadn’t used any of those. But when they asked about over-the-counter supplements, the green tea extract pills fit the bill.
Just 3 weeks after submitting to a series of diagnostic tests, McCants received terrifying news:
“She said you need a liver transplant. This has to happen fast. You have days – you don’t have a week.”
Fortunately for McCants, a match was found within 24 hours, and he survived a successful liver transplant. Now, four years later, he still lives under the shadow of that health emergency. He now lives with kidney disease, chronic pain in his abdomen, and chronic fatigue. Nevertheless, McCants is grateful for his life and hopes others can learn from his experience.
He’s also pursuing a lawsuit against Vitacost. He wants them to update their product labels with strong warnings that inform potential buyers of the true risk of their over-the-counter supplements.
“I didn’t expect harm. I expected that I might waste my money, I may take these and they don’t do a bit of good. I can accept that risk, but the risk that it could cause my liver to fail, that’s a risk that’s too high for somebody to take.”
Currently, Vitacost’s product label has the following warning, but no mention of a risk of liver damage in otherwise healthy individuals:
“Pregnant or lactating women, those with diabetes, hypoglycemics, and people with known medical conditions and/or taking drugs should consult with a licensed physician and/or pharmacist prior to taking dietary supplements. Keep out of reach of children.”
Drinking green tea has its benefits and it would be extremely hard to drink enough to cause harm, however, supplements have the potential to be dangerous. Green tea supplements are a concentrated form of green tea, with high levels of catechins (a type of antioxidant). Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is the most significant active ingredient in extracts.
- A cup of green tea steeped for 3 minutes can have an EGCG content of about 50mg/100 mL (3)
- One capsule of Vitacost’s green tea extract pills, for example, has 250 mg of EGCG (4)
Research has found that consuming green tea can have a positive effect on weight loss (5, 6), so those considering turning to over the counter supplements for weight loss should be happy to know that the more natural option is still effective (but much safer)!
According to EFSA, supplements dosed at 800mg or more of green tea, catechins may pose a danger. If you still decide to take a supplement, be sure to seek quality. Look for something that is pure (third-party tested for impurities and label claims) and ideally organic. Always consult your medical care provider before you start a supplement, even if it can be bought over the counter.
As far as we’re concerned at The Hearty Soul, there are no real shortcuts to a healthier life. It might be tempting to use a dietary supplement to speed up weight loss, but your best bet is to slowly build healthy habits like eating whole foods and staying active throughout the day. These types of changes end up being permanent, unlike crash diets and potentially toxic diet pills.