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What to know before buying diet supplements online

There have been calls for stricter packaging regulations on diet supplements after a 27-year-old man from Western Australia was left with a failed liver after taking a diet supplement he bought online.

Matthew Whitby was told that he had just weeks to live when his doctors performed emergency liver surgery, accepting an organ with Hepatitis B because of the severity of his condition.

Whitby had taken a protein powder containing green tea extract and garcinia cambogia, a supplement derived from a tropical fruit and often used in weight loss products.

“I didn’t think something you could buy online or just over the counter did the damage that it did to me,” Whitby said. “They didn’t say anything about ‘could cause liver failure’.”

More: When women should and shouldn’t take vitamin supplements

Doctors have reportedly seen an increase in liver damage caused by green tea extract, but low dose levels appear to be safe.

The protein powder bought by Whitby contained the green tea supplement, which can be especially toxic to some people.

Man receives liver transplant after taking diet supplement
Image: ABC News

“So it’s a lot of bad luck generally but the protection is to make sure you’ve got a reputable source of the drug, that you’re not taking more than you should, you’re following the instructions,” Clinical pharmacologist Professor Ric Day from St Vincent’s Hospital told ABC.

Despite the green tea extract reportedly causing liver failure, it is not illegal to sell the supplement in Australia. So, how can we stay safe while buying diet pills and supplements online and ensure that we don’t suffer the same consequences as Whitby?

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1. Verify claims

Find out if there are clinical trials to back up the claims of the supplement you’re looking to buy. If there aren’t any, then there is a chance that either the supplement won’t do what it claims to do, or it’s not understood what side effects can occur when taking it.

2. Ensure the supplement is backed by the Therapeutic Goods Association

Do thorough research into what health bodies back the supplement. Naturopath Kerryn Dingey says to look out for the AUST or AUST R on the product number. “This code means the product has been registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration and has to comply with their strict standards.”

3. Research the ingredients

Go direct to the company and ask what the exact ingredients are. If you don’t know what something is, and what effect it might have on the body, do your research and look into it. It is also important to know that there is always an element of risk when ingesting different medicines, herbs and supplements. So be as thorough with your research as you can.

4. Stick to the dosage

Make sure you’re sticking to the suggested dose, not only to ensure you are getting the recommended intake but also ensuring you are not putting yourself in harm’s way.

5. Consult a professional

If in doubt, check in with a local health care professional or naturopath to receive their feedback about the product you are looking to purchase. They are equipped with the knowledge to help you make the right decision.

Have you bought diet supplements online? What was your experience? Let us know.

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