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Many dietary supplements are fortified with protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Herbalife Nutrition is a company that produces a variety of dietary supplements, including protein shakes, meal replacements, vitamins, and minerals.
However, despite its popularity worldwide, many people wonder about the safety of Herbalife products and their risk of potential side effects.
In particular, some are concerned about the products’ effects on kidney health.
This article takes an in-depth look at the science to determine whether Herbalife can damage your kidneys.
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Photography by Aya Brackett
High in protein
Herbalife offers various high protein supplements, including many meal replacements, protein bars, and drink mixes.
Protein plays a key role in growth and development, tissue repair, muscle synthesis, and more (1).
However, following a high protein diet long term may cause waste products to slowly build up in the blood and lead to kidney damage among people with impaired kidney function (2).
For this reason, individuals with chronic kidney disease are advised to monitor their protein intake carefully, which can help maintain kidney function and prevent the progression of kidney disease (3).
For those with chronic kidney disease, it’s typically recommended to limit daily protein intake to around 0.27–0.36 grams per pound (0.6–0.8 grams per kg) of body weight (4).
As such, if you’re on a low protein diet, you should not consume high protein Herbalife products without consulting your healthcare provider.
Many Herbalife products are high in protein, which could impair kidney function among those with kidney disease.
Rich in micronutrients
Many Herbalife products are rich in a variety of essential vitamins and minerals.
For example, the Formula 1 Healthy Meal Nutritional Shake Mix provides a good amount of potassium and phosphorus in each serving (5).
Although these micronutrients are important for several aspects of health, people with kidney disease may need to monitor their intake more carefully.
In fact, people with chronic kidney disease are often advised to manage or limit their intake of foods that are high in potassium and phosphorus, as their kidneys are unable to excrete these nutrients efficiently (6, 7).
For those with chronic kidney disease, increased blood levels of these nutrients may be associated with a higher risk of hospitalization, heart disease, and even death (8, 9).
Certain Herbalife products are high in phosphorus and potassium, two nutrients that those with kidney disease should limit.
May contain caffeine
Some Herbalife products may contain caffeine, including the Herbal Tea Concentrate, Green Tea, and N-R-G Nature’s Raw Guarana Tablets.
Caffeine acts as a vasoconstrictor, meaning that it causes your blood vessels to narrow and temporarily increases your blood pressure levels (10).
Regularly consuming high amounts of caffeine may lead to increased blood pressure levels, which could damage the kidneys and increase your risk of kidney disease (11).
Caffeine-rich beverages like tea and coffee can also increase the excretion of oxalate through urine, thus contributing to the formation of kidney stones (12).
According to one large study, increased caffeine consumption was associated with a higher risk of recurrent kidney stones, especially among women (13).
However, research has found mixed results, and several studies suggest that caffeine intake may be linked to a lower risk of developing kidney stones (14, 15).
Therefore, if you have kidney problems or are prone to developing kidney stones, it’s best to talk with your healthcare provider before starting any supplements that contain caffeine.
Some Herbalife products contain caffeine, which may increase blood pressure levels and cause kidney damage if consumed in high amounts. Caffeine may also contribute to kidney stones, although the research on this topic is mixed.
Could cause liver injury
Although limited research suggests that Herbalife products can directly affect kidney function in healthy adults, some studies have linked Herbalife products to liver damage.
In fact, several case studies have reported that consuming Herbalife products may be associated with severe liver injury and hepatitis, even among previously healthy individuals (16, 17, 18).
One older case study also found that Herbalife products were contaminated with Bacillus subtilis, a bacterium that can cause liver damage (19).
On the other hand, some research has concluded that Herbalife is unlikely to harm liver function, including one study funded by Herbalife (20, 21).
Nevertheless, keep in mind that herbal supplements, in general, are often linked to liver issues and account for approximately 20% of cases of liver injury in the United States (22).
For this reason, it’s unclear whether Herbalife is associated with a greater risk of liver injury than other herbal supplements.
Still, it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider before using any supplements, especially if you have a history of liver problems or are taking medication.
Some case studies have found that Herbalife could be linked to liver injury. However, it’s unclear whether Herbalife is associated with a greater risk of liver damage than other herbal supplements.
The bottom line
For most healthy adults, using Herbalife products is unlikely to cause kidney damage.
However, people with impaired kidney function or chronic kidney disease may need to limit their intake and consult their healthcare provider or dietitian before adding any Herbalife supplements to their routine.
This is because many Herbalife products contain nutrients that those with kidney disease may need to limit, including protein, phosphorus, and potassium.
Some products also contain caffeine, which could temporarily increase your blood pressure levels if consumed in high amounts.
Finally, several case studies have found that Herbalife could be associated with liver damage. Therefore, those with a history of liver problems should also talk with their healthcare provider before using herbal supplements like Herbalife.