Banned drug found in weight loss product

A health product, claiming to be made from natural ingredients, was found to contain a drug which can cause hallucinations and high blood pressure.

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) yesterday warned against the purchase and consumption of VIP Bio Mangosteen Complex - a weight loss product sold online - as it contains sibutramine, a prohibited western drug.

Tests found the product had "very high levels" of sibutramine, and another potent undeclared western medicine, phenolphthalein, the agency said. "The high levels of sibutramine detected in VIP Bio Mangosteen Complex could make it very toxic and cause serious adverse effects such as heart attacks and seizures (fits)," HSA added.

The sale of sibutramine has been banned in Singapore since 2010. It was formerly a prescription drug used as an appetite suppressant to manage obesity.

Besides hallucinations and high blood pressure, people who have consumed health products adulterated with high levels of sibutramine also reported hearing voices. Other possible adverse effects include irregular heartbeat.

VIP Bio Mangosteen Complex can be found sold on websites like Qoo10, Lazada and Facebook, along with claims promising "immediate changes after about seven days and significant results in 21 days".

VIP Bio Mangosteen Complex was found to have a second undeclared medicine that could cause kidney disorders.
VIP Bio Mangosteen Complex was found to have a second undeclared medicine that could cause kidney disorders.

The HSA said it has not received any reports here on adverse health effects caused by VIP Bio Mangosteen Complex, but noted that the use of other slimming products containing high levels of sibutramine had led to hospitalisations here.

Meanwhile phenolphthalein has not been registered for use here since 2011. It was formerly used as a laxative but has been superseded by newer compounds.

Consuming the drug may cause abdominal cramps, breathing difficulties and kidney disorders.

The HSA advised the public to be wary of health products that promise quick weight loss and to exercise caution when buying health products online.

It is illegal to sell and supply complementary health products, like health supplements, containing undeclared potent western medicines or banned substances.

Anyone convicted of selling illegal health products can be fined up to $100,000 and jailed for up to three years, or both, under the Health Products Act.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2016, with the headline 'Banned drug found in weight loss product'. Print Edition | Subscribe