July 13, 2024

Japan drugmaker reports two additional deaths in supplement scare


A Japanese pharmaceutical company, embroiled in a burgeoning health crisis surrounding its dietary supplements, disclosed on Thursday two more fatalities potentially linked to its products. Last week, Kobayashi Pharmaceutical initiated a recall of three supplement lines—”Beni Koji Choleste Help” and two others—following reports of renal issues from consumers. These over-the-counter remedies contain red yeast rice, or “beni koji,” touted for its cholesterol-lowering properties.

With Thursday’s revelation, the tally of deaths under scrutiny by both the company and the health ministry now stands at four, accompanied by over 100 individuals hospitalized. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, addressing parliament, emphasized the government’s commitment to identifying the root cause and implementing preventive measures. He pledged, “We will elucidate the causes and, if necessary, explore all potential avenues for intervention.”

Kobayashi Pharmaceutical, renowned for its diverse health offerings, conducts extensive advertising campaigns via television in Japan. While medical research acknowledges red yeast rice as a statin alternative for cholesterol reduction, it also underscores the risk of organ impairment based on its chemical composition. The Osaka-based firm disclosed its distribution of red yeast rice to approximately 50 domestic and two Taiwanese enterprises.

In a statement, the drugmaker acknowledged notification from a bereaved family regarding a Choleste Help user’s demise due to kidney ailment, alongside another individual’s passing associated with past Choleste Help usage. The company committed to verifying the facts and establishing causal connections in these instances, underscoring the imperative of transparent disclosure.

Expressing remorse over the situation, the government directed several health-food manufacturers to reassess their offerings, while disseminating information internationally through Japanese embassies. Numerous Japanese entities relying on beni koji supplied by Kobayashi Pharmaceutical have independently announced recalls, encompassing health supplements, a rose-hued sparkling sake, salad dressing, bread, and miso paste integral to traditional cuisine.

Despite identifying inadvertent ingredients in the products, Kobayashi Pharmaceutical asserted the absence of citrinin, a toxic byproduct potentially harming the kidneys. Criticism mounted as Health Minister Keizo Takemi lamented the company’s delayed communication with authorities during investigative processes, characterizing it as “regrettable.”

The unfolding saga underscores the imperative of rigorous oversight in the health supplement industry, urging swift action to safeguard public health and restore consumer confidence.

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