Chewing khat leaves correlated with an increased risk for chronic liver disease, according to results of a case-controlled hospital-based study. The data further showed the association was dose-dependent among men.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) has defined khat as a drug of abuse as it may lead to health and social problems,” Stian Magnus Staurung Orlien, MD, from the Oslo University Hospital, Norway, and colleagues wrote. “This study identified khat-associated chronic liver disease that may be responsible for a significant proportion of the liver disease observed in countries where khat use is widespread. As the prevalence of khat chewing is expanding within the wider diaspora, these findings have important public health implications.”

According to Orlien and colleagues, the leaves and shoots of the evergreen khat shrub are chewed to reduce fatigue, increase performance and for the effects of euphoria and excitement. Khat chewing is common in the Horn of Africa region, the Arabian Peninsula and the coast of East Africa.

Additionally, the researchers stated that chronic khat use is associated with adverse effects such as psychosis, myocardial infarction and upper gastrointestinal cancers, and has been implicated in the development of acute hepatitis and CLD.

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