Bak Kut Teh can damage the liver if mixed with prescription drugs, Australian researchers warn


Australian study shows Bak Kut Teh can cause liver damage

Bak kut teh is a popular dish enjoyed on both sides of the causeway. There has been much debate about whether the pepper or herbal version is superior.

However, we have bad news for lovers of bak kut teh, whatever type they prefer.

A group of Australian researchers has found that plant-based foods can damage the liver if mixed with prescription drugs. And yes, that includes bak kut teh.

Source: mila0506 on Flickr

This is the first study to be done on plant-based foods like bak kut teh, after previous studies focused on herbal medicine.

Study shows bak kut teh can cause ‘significant’ liver damage

Previous reports indicate that traditional herbal medicine can react negatively with other prescribed herbs or medications, causing liver failure.

Researchers at the University of Adelaide then decided to conduct a study on bak kut teh to find out if plant-based foods would have the same effect.

They randomly bought four packs of bak kut teh with different ingredients and boiled them.

  • First formula: dried hawthorn
  • Second wording: Goji berries, ginseng, bark and dried mushrooms
  • Third formula: Astragalus, Polygonatum odoratum, Ligusticum chuanxiong, Codonopsis pilosula, Cinnamomum cassia, Angelica sinensis, Illicium verum, Piper nigrum and Eugenia caryophyllata
  • Fourth wording: Spices, pepper and salt

They then exposed liver cells to the soups.

The study did not specify whether it used the Singaporean or Malaysian versions of bak kut teh.

bak kut the liver

Source: mila0506 on Flickr

In all cases, all four formulations “demonstrated significant toxicity,” according to the study results.

The formulation with spices, pepper and salt showed the greatest toxicity in particular, with around 83% cell death.

Said Professor Roger Byard, George Richard Marks Professor of Pathology at the University of Adelaide,

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

Potential for liver failure if herbs are mixed with prescription drugs

With these findings, researchers are now urging people with underlying liver disease, as well as those taking prescription medications, to take note of this “potential side effect.”

Although there were no reports of adverse clinical reactions related to the consumption of bak kut teh, one of the study authors saw a patient with rhabdomyolysis two days after eating the herbal soup .

Rhabdomyolysis is a serious condition that occurs when damaged muscle tissue releases proteins and electrolytes into the bloodstream.

In fact, bak kut teh might not be the only thing that could cause liver damage. study notes,

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

You can read the full study results here.

Be careful when eating plant-based foods

Bak kut teh is undoubtedly a comforting and delicious dish to enjoy.

However, this study showed that one should probably avoid eating too much if he is also taking prescription medications.

I guess bak kut teh fans who have underlying liver disease or are on prescription medication should find other, safer ways to satisfy their meat and soup cravings.

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Featured image adapted from Flickr.

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