Deaths Linked To Japan Health Supplement, S’pore Recalls Sake With Ingredient

Two deaths were linked on Wednesday (Mar 27) to a growing health scare in Japan around dietary supplements meant to lower cholesterol, with more than 100 people reportedly hospitalised.

The drugmaker at the centre of the concerns, Kobayashi Pharmaceutical, told AFP that it was aware of two deaths possibly related to its prescription-free tablets.

It has recalled three supplement brands – “beni koji choleste help” and two other products – which contain an ingredient called red yeast rice, or “beni koji”.

Medical research describes red yeast rice as an alternative to statins for lowering high cholesterol, but also warns of a risk of organ damage depending on its chemical make-up.

Kobayashi Pharmaceutical said on Tuesday it was aware of 75 hospitalisations in total in relation to its products, which it recalled after kidney complaints from customers.

Several Japanese media reports said that this number has now risen to 106, but neither the drugmaker nor the health ministry were immediately able to confirm the latest figure.

The company has cautioned that it has not reached a conclusion on a causal link between the health problems and its supplements, which it voluntarily recalled on Friday.

It has also supplied red yeast rice to around 50 other firms in Japan and two in Taiwan, said the Osaka-based company, which sells over-the-counter drugs and supplements.

Dozens of Japanese firms that used the beni koji provided by Kobayashi Pharmaceutical in their products have also separately announced recalls.

These include a rose-coloured sparkling sake, salad dressing, bread, and “miso” bean paste used in many traditional dishes, along with various health tablets.

The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) on Tuesday (Mar 26) recalled two products containing red yeast rice, after health supplements with the ingredient were recalled in Japan over suspected health risks.

SFA said it was recalling Mio Sparkling Sake Premium (Rose), which comes in 300ml and 750ml bottles, following the voluntary recall of the two products in Japan by its manufacturer Takara Shuzo International.

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