Health Medical Pharma

5 dead, 140 hospitalised after taking Japanese health supplements


HQ Team

March 29, 2024:Five people have died and 143 hospitalised in Japan after consuming health supplements. The Japanese health ministry has warned that the numbers are likely to go up.

Osaka-based Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co., the manufacturer of the supplements, is facing criticism for delaying taking any action despite knowing about issues with the production of these supplements in January itself. The company, which announced the recall of the products on March 22, has been under scrutiny for its handling of the situation.

The supplements, including Benikoji Choleste reduce cholesterol levels, and contain an ingredient known as benikoji, a red species of mold. Some consumers experienced kidney problems after ingestion, prompting investigations by government laboratories to determine the precise cause. Despite efforts to contain the situation, fatalities continue to mount, raising concerns worldwide.

During a press conference held on Friday, President Akihiro Kobayashi offered his apologies and expressed deep regret for the company’s lapses. The apology extended to the victims and their families, as well as to the broader health food industry and medical community affected by the crisis. Kobayashi Pharmaceutical has issued a recall, which extends to other items containing benikoji, such as miso paste and crackers, some of which use the mold as a food coloring agent.

The recall casts a spotlight on the regulatory landscape surrounding health products across the world. Most are available available over the counter with no or minimal regulatory scrutiny. 


Some Japanese analysts attribute the incident to recent deregulation initiatives aimed at stimulating economic growth. The ease of access to these supplements, available without a prescription from pharmacies, raises concerns about potential risks, particularly for unaware tourists who may have purchased or exported the products before the recall.

Despite the longstanding presence of benikoji products in the market, issues emerged with those manufactured in 2023, leading to the current crisis. The scale of production, with 18.5 tons of benikoji produced by Kobayashi Pharmaceutical in 2023 alone, underscores the widespread impact of the recall. Moreover, the use of benikoji, a fermented rice product, has historical roots in Asian culinary traditions but has now sparked global health concerns.

As investigations into the fatalities and health risks associated with the health supplements continue, authorities emphasize the importance of adherence to safety protocols. The incident serves as a caution of the potential consequences of lax regulation and highlights the need for strict overseeing of the global supplement market.

The Vitamins & Minerals market is globally experiencing significant growth after the COVID-19 pandemic. The global market witnessed an increase of around 6% in 2020. India is third in revenue generated in this market, with $2100 million behind China and the United States. 

Most multivitamins are a hotch-potch of nutrients that aren’t based on clinical research, and some combinations are counter-productive and harmful. The testing standards for supplements in the market are not stringent, and even the most popular brands fail to pass the minimum standards test. Manufacturers are able to pass them as wonder drugs with very little hard scientific evidence because they qualify as ‘food products’ rather than medicines. Most medical professionals maintain that pills are ‘not a shortcut to better health and the prevention of chronic diseases’. They emphasise that staying healthy with a nutritious diet is beneficial in avoiding most chronic diseases. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *