Japan raids factory making health supplements linked to deaths

Government orders review of approval system for health products in response to supplement-related illnesses.

Officials of Kobayashi bow in apologies at a press conference
Kobayashi Pharmaceutical's president Akihiro Kobayashi (2nd L) has apologised for not acting sooner [Jiji Press/AFP]

Health officials in Japan have raided a factory belonging to Kobayashi Pharmaceutical after the drugmaker reported a fifth death possibly linked to its dietary supplements advertised as helping to lower cholesterol.

On Saturday, officials from the ministries of health, labour and welfare as well as local authorities inspected the facility in the city of Osaka that had made the supplements containing an ingredient called red yeast rice, or “beni koji”.

Kobayashi said on Friday that five people had died and 114 people were being treated in hospitals after taking the products. Japan’s Ministry of Health says the supplements are responsible for the deaths and illnesses, and warned that the number of those affected could increase.

The company has said that little is known about the exact cause of the illnesses, which include kidney failure. An investigation into the products is under way in cooperation with government health authorities.

Japan supplement
A Japanese pharma company has recalled health supplements containing an ingredient called red yeast rice after deaths and hospitalisations [Reuters]

Reports of health problems surfaced in 2023, although “beni koji” has been used in various products for years.

“Beni koji” contains Monascus purpureus, a red mould that is also used as a red colouring in some foods.

The products were recalled on March 22, two months after the company received official medical reports about the problem. The company’s president, Akihiro Kobayashi, has apologised for not acting sooner.

The supplements could be bought at pharmacies without a prescription. Kobayashi said about a million packages were sold over the past three fiscal years. It also sold “beni koji” to other manufacturers, and some products were exported to countries like China and Taiwan.

The government has ordered a review of the approval system for health products in response to the supplement-related illnesses. A report is due in May.

A Chinese consumers association on Friday urged consumers to stop usage, saying it was concerned about the risk of Kobayashi products, state media reported.

Source: News Agencies