Two deaths linked to Japan’s health supplement scare, 100 more hospitalized

Tokyo, March 27 Two deaths were linked today to a growing health scare in Japan over cholesterol-lowering dietary supplements, with more than 100 people hospitalized.

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The drugmaker at the center of the concerns, Kobayashi Pharmaceutical, told AFP it was aware of two deaths possibly linked to its over-the-counter pills.

It has recalled three brands of beni koji choleste help supplements and two other products that contain an ingredient called red yeast rice, or beni koji.

Medical research describes red yeast rice as an alternative to statins to lower high cholesterol, but also warns of the risk of organ damage based on its chemical composition.

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Kobayashi Pharmaceutical said Tuesday it was aware of a total of 75 hospitalizations related to its products, which it recalled after customer kidney complaints.

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

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

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

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

These include a sparkling pink sake, salad dressing, bread and miso bean paste used in many traditional dishes, along with various health pills.

Response needed

Health Minister Keizo Takemi said on Tuesday that the government had told Kobayashi Pharmaceutical to quickly provide information on the situation.

The health ministry has also instructed local authorities across the country to collect information on health damage, he said, offering condolences to those affected.

Authorities will consult with the company and a government meeting will be held this week to discuss the status of the case and the need for a response, Takemi added.

Kobayashi Pharmaceuticals’ share price fell 4% on Wednesday.

The drugmaker had said earlier in the day that the first person to die had regularly bought one of the recalled products over nearly three years.

We are now aware of a case where there is a possible causal link between a death and our product, the company said in a statement.

We are currently investigating the link and what happened, he added, offering the deepest apologies.

The analysis found the possibility that the products contained ingredients that we had not intended to include, the company said.

But their analysis found no citrinin produced by red yeast rice, which is toxic and can damage the kidneys.

Red yeast rice is made by steam-fermenting rice with edible fungi and is often used to lower high cholesterol as an alternative to statin medication, according to a 2019 article in the British Medical Journal.

In the past, concerns have been raised about red yeast rice products containing high levels of a compound called monacolin K, which has the same structure as medically approved cholesterol drugs.

Red yeast rice products that contain significant amounts of monacolin K may have the same potential side effects as statin drugs, including muscle, kidney, and liver damage, according to the US National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health in its web site AFP

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