Original Research

Lactic acidosis had developed in diabetic patients receiving herbal therapy


Introduction: Herbal antidiabetic products are popular in Vietnam. Many cases have presented to hospitals with severe lactic acidosis, shock and were ultimately fatal. We reviewed the clinical findings of these patients for factors that contributed to their illness and death, and analyzed the ingredients contained in these herbal products sold for diabetic treatment.

Method: This was a single-center, retrospective, observational case series. Data were collected on all cases who presented with severe lactic acidosis after use of traditional herbal anti-diabetic pills, over the two-year time period 2018 – 2019. Past medical histories and clinical findings were reviewed. Samples of the herbal anti-diabetic products, and patient blood and urine were analyzed.

Results: A total of 18 cases of severe lactic acidosis associated with use of herbal anti-diabetic pills were reviewed. These patients had a diagnosis of diabetes for an average of 9 years (9.4 ± 4.6 years). The use of these herbals for blood glucose control ranged from one month to 8 years; approximately 50% of these patients consumed these products over a year’s time. Only two cases had combined herbal products and metformin 500 mg. A total mean of herbal pills consumed was 9 (SD ± 8); patients commonly took combinations of 2 different colored tablets. Major manifestations included gastrointestinal disorders, severe metabolic acidosis (pH = 6.85 ± 0.22, HCO3- = 4.4 ± 2.6), with multi-organ failure and shock on admission. Hyperlactatemia was present in all cases (195 ± 74 mg/dL). For lactate removal and acidosis correction, intermittent hemodialysis or continuous renal replacement therapy was performed, ranging from 2 hours to 72 hours depending on the severity of lactic acidosis and patient need. The mortality rate was 33.3% and all these patients became hypoglycemic, either at initial presentation or during treatment. 22 samples of herbal pills were available for testing that contained the biguanides metformin and phenformin, with a higher concentration of phenformin than metformin if both were present, Phenformin was presented in all samples. Arsenic was found in two samples.

Conclusion: Biguanides are an effective treatment for diabetes and were added to traditional herbal pills sold and used for blood glucose control. Many users of these products are doing so because of the cost and perception of the safety of natural remedies. Biguanide poisoning may still occur even in patients without renal impairment.

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