Japanese supplement pill recalled amid five deaths and more than 100 hospitalisations

A factory of Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co., is seen in Osaka, Japan on March 26, 2024.
A factory of Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co., is seen in Osaka, Japan on March 26, 2024. Copyright Keiji Uesho/Kyodo News via AP
By Euronews with AP
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A Japanese supplement pill was linked to five deaths and more than 100 hospitalisations.

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Japan recalled a health supplement product believed to have caused five deaths and sickened more than 100 people.

The products from Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co. contained an ingredient called “benikoji,” a red species of mould. They were marketed as helping to lower cholesterol.

Two deaths had previously been linked to the product, with three additional deaths reported by the company, which said it was in the process of confirming the causes of the deaths.

More than 100 people have been hospitalised, and many more are believed to have been sickened, although it’s unclear if all the illnesses are directly linked to benikoji (pronounced beh-nee-koh-jeeh).

In addition to the products from Osaka-based Kobayashi, more than 40 products from other companies containing benikoji, including miso paste, crackers and a vinegar dressing, were recalled, starting last week, a government health ministry official said on Wednesday.

The ministry warned the deaths could keep growing. The supplements could be bought at drug stores without a prescription from a doctor, and some may have been purchased or exported before the recall, including by tourists who may not be aware of the health risks.

'Please stop taking our products'

The ministry has put up a list on its official site of all the recalled products, including some that use benikoji for food colouring.

Kobayashi apologised and asked in an online statement: “Please stop taking our products, and please do not use them in the future".

Repeated calls to Kobayashi went unanswered. The company president and other top officials held a news conference last week when the problem first surfaced, bowing their heads in apology, as is the standard in Japan.

Akihiro Kobayashi, President of Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co., left, bows during a press conference in Osaka, on March 22, 2024
Akihiro Kobayashi, President of Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co., left, bows during a press conference in Osaka, on March 22, 2024Chiaki Ueda/Kyodo News via AP

The ministry official asked everyone to stop ingesting anything with benikoji in it. People with health problems such as weak kidneys could be particularly vulnerable, the official added.

All the products were made in Japan, although it is unclear if any of the raw materials were imported.

A recall of imported health supplements has happened before, but this is the first major recall of a domestically produced supplement, according to Japanese media reports.

This story has been updated to report an additional death linked to the recalled products.

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