‘The food supplement that ruined my liver’

Image copyright Jim McCants

Jim McCants took green tea capsules in a drive to get healthy in middle age. His physicians now say they left him needing an urgent liver transplant, writes the BBC’s Tristan Quinn.

It should have been one of the most wonderful days of his life. But Jim McCants seems back on his youngest son’s high school graduation with mixed feelings. As he sat down next to his wife Cathleen in the university auditorium, just outside Dallas, Texas, she turned to look at him.

“She said ‘Do you feel OK? ‘” Jim remembers. “I said, ‘Yeah I are you all right, why? ‘ ‘Your face is yellow, your eyes are yellow, you look terrible.’ When I looked in the mirror it was shocking.”

It was shocking partly because Jim, then 50, had been working on improving his lifestyle and losing weight, focusing on eating more healthily and taking regular exercise.

“My dad had a heart attack at aged 59 and he did not make it, ” says Jim. “There’s a lot that he missed out on with the americans 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.”

But soon after his son’s graduation, Jim was admitted to hospital with a suspected liver injury.

Image copyright Jim McCants Image caption Jim, his son and his wife, at his son’s graduation

Trying to identify the cause of Jim’s liver injury, those treating him ruled out alcohol.

“For the last 30 years I drank maybe a six-pack of beer a year , no wine. So alcohol was not a big part of my life, ” Jim says.

They also ruled out prescription drugs – he wasn’t taking any at the time – and smoking, something he had never done.

“Then my hepatologist drilled in to, ‘What about any over-the-counter supplements? ‘” says Jim.

Find out more

Watch Vitamin pills: Miracle or Myth? on Horizon, on BBC Two, at 21:00 on Thursday 25 October

Viewers in the UK can catch up later online

BBC Food: Can a vitamin pill a day keep the doctor away ?

As part of his mid-life health kick, Jim had started taking a green tea supplement because he had heard it might have cardiac benefits. These supplements have grown in popularity in recent years, often breathlessly promoted online for their antioxidant benefits, and their supposed ability to aid weight loss and prevent cancer.

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