Medical Food Hurts Livers

Osteoarthritis drug flavocoxid may cause liver injury

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) If you own a TV, you know what prescription drug commercials sound like: a persuasive description of the benefits of the drug followed by a lengthy list of side effects.

The companies are required to tell you, "Even if our drug works well, it still can be harmful."

A "medical food" used to treat osteoarthritis may be responsible for a limited number of liver injuries.

Limbrel is an osteoarthritis treatment for adults. It is considered a medical food. Unlike dietary supplements, medical foods are taken under the supervision of a doctor by prescription only. While Limbrel does not cure osteoarthritis, it eases symptoms as long as a patient is taking it.

"Ask your doctor about the side effects of your prescriptions."

Recent findings made by Naga Chalasani, MD, of Indiana University School of Medicine, and colleagues show that the prescription medical food known as Limbrel (flavocoxid) may have caused four cases of livery injury.

Liver damage was marked by increased blood levels of alanine aminotransferase, alkaline phosphatase, and bilirubin - three substances that are used by or processed by the liver. When levels of these substances rise in a patient's bloodstream, it is a sign of liver disease.

Fortunately for the affected patients, the signs of liver damage returned to normal within 3 to 12 weeks after stopping Limbrel.

"Flavocoxid can cause clinically significant liver injury, which seems to resolve within weeks after cessation," the authors conclude.

It is, of course, important to keep in mind the small number of cases seen in this study. The liver damage may have been caused by a factor the researchers did not account for.

More research is needed to see if Limbrel is to blame for these liver injuries.

This research was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

The study is appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 22, 2012
Last Updated:
November 12, 2012