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How Hard is Kratom on the Liver?

Two kratom capsules in the palm of a hand

The liver is a busy organ! From fatty foods to acetaminophen and alcohol — everything we eat or take goes through the liver. Over time, the strain we put on the liver can cause real complications and health concerns.

So, how hard is kratom on the liver? Will regular kratom use put an undue strain on this vital organ, or is kratom use more akin to using its botanical cousin, coffee?

Well, the jury is still out. As with so many things in the kratom world, there’s too little research to draw solid conclusions. While one recent small study found potential for kratom-induced liver injury, many experts state that it’s far too early to raise the alarm.

Still, it pays to be informed when it comes to your health, and knowledge is power. Let’s go over the available research on kratom’s effects on the liver, so you and your doctor can be better equipped to make decisions about your regular kratom use.

How Does the Liver Work?

The liver is a crucial organ that works to filter toxins out of the bloodstream, process nutrients, and pass “purified” nutrients back into the bloodstream.

But it doesn’t just filter out toxins: the liver also plays an important role in our most fundamental metabolic processes.

According to the NIH’s Library of Medicine, “The liver plays a central role in all metabolic processes in the body. In fat metabolism the liver cells break down fats and produce energy.” Moreover, it plays a similar role in metabolizing both carbohydrates and proteins — the other essential macronutrients that contribute to a healthy diet (and lifestyle).

All this is to say: the liver, it’s important. If the liver starts having trouble performing its detoxifying and metabolizing roles, it can cause cascading issues for the rest of the body.

What Causes Liver Damage?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are many potential causes of liver disease and damage. Most are environmental or genetic factors, but diet and substance use can also play a key role.

Alcohol is, perhaps, the most famous substance that can cause liver damage. Taken in excess or under the wrong conditions, however, many other common substances can contribute to liver damage. These include (but certainly aren’t limited to):

  • OTC pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol, others).
  • Prescription drugs including many antibiotics, steroids, antifungals, and arthritis drugs.
  • Common herbal supplements like aloe vera and kava.

The key, as with most things in life, is moderation. Most doctors agree that even alcohol is perfectly safe for moderate, responsible use. The keyword is “moderate”.

For most, it’s when moderation turns to excess that problems emerge.

How Does Kratom Interact With the Liver?

So, the central question: does kratom interact with the liver? And, if so, how hard is kratom on the liver?

The first question is easy to answer, even without a medical degree. Kratom will interact with the liver — just like virtually everything you put in your body does.

But the second question is far more difficult to answer, and the available clinical research isn’t yet able to give us a clear verdict. So, again, another reason why continued Kratom research is vital.

What the Research Says

When it comes to kratom and liver health, one particular case study tends to gain a lot of attention, but the medical community is split on its implications.

In the study, researchers looked at 404 cases of liver injury that were associated with the use of supplements. Eight were identified as being “associated” with kratom, 7 of which were thought to have a causal relationship with kratom use.

Commenting on the findings at the 2019 Liver Meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, Victor J. Navarro, MD, was critical of kratom’s effects but did not draw a bright-line conclusion: “[N]ot only are we seeing increased use of kratom, but that liver injury might be one characteristic of its use.”

Response from the medical community has been somewhat mixed, with some raising the alarm and others recommending further calm research before drawing conclusions.

In an interview with Healthline, Marc Swogger, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist studying the effects of substances, including kratom, summed up the response well.

Swogger argued that the available research was far from conclusive, and that the researchers had not demonstrated that kratom was the cause of liver damage. “Case studies have too many limitations to make that leap, and doing so is irresponsible,” Swogger stated. “More study — including randomized controlled trials — will be important to document any positive or negative effects of kratom.”

Even though Swogger stated that “the risks of kratom have probably been overblown”, he still urged caution. After all, “There is always some risk when you use a plant that has not been exhaustively studied and that is not regulated.”

Kratom and Liver Health, In Closing

So, how hard is kratom on the liver? With available evidence, it’s difficult to say for sure.

Common sense tells us that kratom will have some effect on liver health. After all, the liver is responsible for processing, in part, virtually everything that we put in our bodies.

And when it comes to the available research, it seems that kratom may have some potential to cause liver damage.

However, commenters in the medical community have stated that the case studies are inadequate for proving that kratom is the active cause in the eight cases examined. Other substances were involved, and kratom’s effects are still poorly understood. Moreover, the limited sample size makes drawing concrete conclusions virtually impossible.

Nonetheless, the possibility of kratom induced liver injury is apparent, and kratom users should be aware of this potential.

Regular kratom users should take this to heart. Discuss your kratom use with your physician; it may be prudent to set up semi-regular tests to ensure that your liver is operating effectively. If early signs of liver damage emerge, your physician may recommend reducing or ceasing your kratom use or may arrange for some other treatment plan.

We take kratom for health, wellness, and happier days, and we firmly believe in its therapeutic potential. But your body is unique, and it’s vitally important to attend to its unique needs.

Your health is everything, and when it comes to protecting an organ as important as the liver, it’s worth taking a few precautions.