The popular herbal supplement kratom has faced controversy in recent years, with concerns raised over its safety and potential for side effects like liver damage. However, research on kratom’s hepatic effects remains in the early stages.
Here we’ll explore what the current science says about kratom and liver health from how the liver functions, to kratom’s influence on liver enzymes, potential toxicity, and how to maintain liver wellness as a kratom user.
What Is kratom?
Kratom is a tropical tree (Mitragyna speciosa) native to Southeast Asia, with leaves that contain compounds like mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. In regions where the tree grows, the leaves have been used traditionally for their mild stimulant and pain-relieving properties.
In recent decades, kratom has gained popularity worldwide as an herbal supplement that many tout as a safe, natural alternative to opioids or stimulants.
Kratom leaves are typically crushed into powder and ingested orally or brewed into tea. At low doses, kratom acts as a stimulant, while higher doses have an analgesic, sedative effect.
However, effectiveness and safety remain hotly debated, with concerns over side effects and potential for dependency.
What Is The Role Of The Liver?
Understanding kratom’s relationship with liver health starts with a brief overview of the liver itself. As the largest internal organ, the liver performs over 500 vital functions. Key responsibilities include:
- Filtering toxins from the bloodstream
- Metabolizing drugs and nutrients
- Producing bile for digestion
- Storing vitamins, minerals, iron
- Regulating hormones
- Fighting infections
The liver processes virtually everything we ingest through enzymatic biotransformation. Detoxifying chemicals often create byproducts that must also be neutralized before elimination.
What Does The Research Say About Kratom?
Given the liver’s role, there are reasonable questions about whether regularly consuming kratom powder could potentially harm this sensitive organ through direct toxicity or accumulated metabolic byproducts. However, current science on kratom hepatotoxicity remains sparse and inconclusive.
Several animal studies have reported dose-dependent liver damage from chronic, high-dose kratom ingestion. However human clinical data is far more limited. Currently, most evidence involves case reports of individuals experiencing liver injury allegedly caused by or linked to kratom use.
However, causation is difficult to establish in these instances. Many cases involve confounding factors like pre-existing conditions, polydrug use, contamination, or dubious product sources making it impossible to implicate kratom as the definitive cause of liver damage.
What Is Kratom Liver Toxicity?
- When examining the purported risks of kratom liver toxicity, key questions arise around the possible mechanisms involved:
- Is mitragynine, 7-hydroxymitragynine, or another inherent kratom compound directly hepatotoxic at high doses?
- Could overdose via cumulative damage from kratom’s metabolites tax liver function?
- Might kratom adulteration or co-ingestion of other drugs/medications trigger adverse interactions?
- Are certain individuals predisposed to kratom-induced liver injury based on genetic or health factors?
Presently, none of these potential mechanisms are conclusively supported by rigorous human data. Isolated case reports are insufficient to establish causation or prevalence. Controlled, large-scale human studies on long-term kratom use are desperately needed to delineate if and how kratom may impact liver health.
Kratom Effects On the Liver
Though isolated instances concerning liver test results have been attributed to kratom use, the most consistent hepatic effect documented is modest elevation of certain liver enzymes in chronic users.
Specifically, studies have observed increased levels of the hepatic enzymes AST, ALT, and ALP in regular kratom consumers compared to non-users and baseline. However, enzyme levels generally remained within normal limits. Elevation beyond the standard reference range was rare, even in heavy users.
These moderate enzyme increases could theoretically signify early liver injury. However, without additional manifest symptoms or overt liver pathology, they are non-specific changes that simply warrant continued monitoring for more concrete indicators of damage.
What Causes Liver Damage?
To assess kratom’s true level of risk, it is helpful to compare its effects profile to agents with well-established hepatic toxicity. Compounds like alcohol, acetaminophen, high fructose corn syrup and some medications can overwhelm liver metabolic function, leading to measurable harm.
Kratom, while requiring further study, has not yet demonstrated liver injury rates or mechanisms on par with these known toxins. That does not mean kratom is harmless, but rather that evidence for liver damage remains limited and circumstantial thus far.
More importantly, research must differentiate between intrinsic kratom effects versus contamination or co-administration with hepatotoxins that often accompanies recreational use. Salvation kratom’s effects in controlled settings are needed to delineate the true level of risk.
Possible Complications Of Using Kratom
While severe liver injury from pure kratom is rare based on available data, those choosing to use kratom should still be mindful of taking steps to support liver health:
- Avoid combining kratom with other drugs, including OTCs like acetaminophen
- Watch for early signs of liver problems like fatigue or jaundice
- Have liver enzymes tested periodically to monitor for changes
- Stay hydrated and avoid binge drinking alcohol
Anyone experiencing acute symptoms of liver dysfunction like sustained nausea, abdominal pain, or yellowing skin should immediately seek medical advice. Inform your doctor of any supplements you take.
How Can You Improve Liver Health?
Whether using kratom or not, some ways to proactively strengthen liver function that anyone can engage in include:
- Eat anti-inflammatory foods: Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, omegas
- Stay hydrated: Aim for 8 glasses of water daily
- Avoid toxins: Limit alcohol, drug, and OTC med use
- Maintain healthy weight: Obesity contributes to fatty liver disease
- Moderate protein: Excess protein metabolism taxes the liver
- Manage medications wisely: Discuss drug interactions
- Balance blood sugar: Poor glycemic control hurts the liver
Following a generally healthy lifestyle supports robust liver enzyme systems to metabolize all that we ingest, including herbal supplements like kratom. Speak to your doctor about additional ways to optimize your liver health.
Is It Possible To Reverse Damage To The Liver?
The liver possesses impressive regenerative capabilities. Unless severe scarring or cirrhosis develops, the liver can often heal itself and recover normal function when a cause of damage is removed.
For example, if heightened liver enzymes result from medication use or obesity, discontinuing the medication alongside diet and exercise may gradually help enzyme levels normalize over time as the liver repairs itself. Simply stopping the consumption of kratom could potentially resolve minor enzyme elevations if a direct causative link is ever substantiated.
For those already coping with liver disease, options like medication, moderate exercise, nutritional therapy and abstinence from alcohol and drugs can support healing and prevent additional insult to liver tissues. However, severe progressive conditions may require transplant surgery.
Kratom And Liver Health, In Closing
The available science investigating kratom in relation to liver injury and toxicity currently remains inconclusive and circumstantial. While concerning case reports exist, no well-controlled human studies have established causation or rates of occurrence. However, prudence dictates long-term kratom users follow common sense precautions and monitor liver enzyme levels periodically.
Until more rigorous clinical data emerges, maintain realistic skepticism if anecdotal claims demonize kratom as an imminent liver threat or proclaim it universally harmless. The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle, as a substance requires further research to define risk and ideal use. Avoid combining kratom with other drugs, supplement wisely, stay hydrated, and talk to your doctor.
While rare instances of kratom-associated liver problems may indeed surface one day, the prevalence and severity compared to legal drugs like alcohol have not been substantiated. Still, caution is warranted alongside more research, especially for pre-existing hepatic conditions. Through sensible precautions and an eye to developing research, kratom can remain an option for those who wish to mindfully explore its potential benefits.
Can kratom cause liver damage?
According to limited research thus far, kratom appears very unlikely to cause serious liver damage in most users when taken in moderation, but individual risk factors like high dosing, pre-existing liver disease, and polydrug use could increase susceptibility in some.
What are the warning signs of liver damage from kratom?
Early signs of possible kratom-related liver injury may include fatigue, nausea, itching, jaundice, abdominal pain, or notably elevated liver enzymes on blood work. However, many factors can cause these non-specific symptoms, so speak to a doctor about appropriate testing and diagnosis.
Is kratom hard on the liver?
Available animal studies suggest very high kratom doses may stress liver function. However, human data has not confirmed significant hepatotoxicity thus far when kratom is taken alone in reasonable amounts. But research is still limited, so those with liver problems should exercise caution.
Can you take kratom if you have liver problems?
Those with pre-existing liver conditions should generally avoid kratom or any new supplement until speaking to their doctor, as underlying hepatic impairment may heighten susceptibility to adverse effects. Monitor liver enzymes closely if kratom is used.
What helps repair liver damage from kratom?
For mild enzyme elevation, ceasing kratom use alongside lifestyle changes like a healthy diet, hydration, exercise, reduced alcohol intake, and avoidance of hepatotoxic drugs may support natural liver healing. More severe liver injury requires professional medical treatment.