Illegal health products

1-Day Diet tablets contain a banned ingredient called sibutramine.
1-Day Diet tablets contain a banned ingredient called sibutramine.PHOTO: HSA

Many people turn to off-the-shelf capsules and remedies to combat chronic ailments and other bodily discomforts.

But not all these health products are legal here. Some contain undisclosed ingredients like Western medicine. These are referred to as adulterated products.

Some of these may be marketed as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) products. However, TCM physician Lim Lay Beng, who runs a clinic at The Adelphi, said: "Any TCM product that contains Western medicine is not considered a TCM product. It is considered an illegal product in Singapore."

Health products that are not approved for sale here, as well as fake products that are passed off as registered ones, are the other types of illegal health products.

Last year, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) alerted the public to more than 10 of these products. Here are some of them:

1-DAY DIET

It contains a banned ingredient called sibutramine. A healthy woman in her 30s experienced breathing difficulties, increased heart rate and excessive sweating of the palms after taking this product for less than two weeks.

VIP BIO MANGOSTEEN COMPLEX

Apart from high levels of sibutra- mine, this weight-loss product has phenolphthalein, which can cause abdominal cramps, breathing difficulties and kidney disorders.

MEIZITANG BOTANICAL SLIMMING 100% NATURAL SOFT GEL

It contains diclofenac, a potent painkiller that, when used for a prolonged period, may cause serious gastric bleeding, heart attack and stroke.

ANANDA THUKHA REMEDY FOR DIABETES

This has glibenclamide, a prescription-only medication which should be used only under medical supervision as it can cause blood disorders.

It also contains yohimbine, which can give rise to insomnia and heart palpitations.

A woman in her 60s took this for about three months before seeing a doctor for sore throat and tiredness. She was diagnosed with agranulocytosis, a serious blood disorder that makes one more prone to falling sick from infections.

LONGRED OYSTER-X

Touted to help prevent prostate problems, this product contains a chemical related to sildenafil, a prescription-only medicine used to treat erectile dysfunction.

Using it without proper medical supervision can cause decreased or loss of vision and hearing, low blood pressure and cardiovascular events such as heart attacks.

The ingredient is risky for people with heart-related problems.

HUO XUE QING GAN JIE DU WAN AND HUANG NIU MU SHI NI DE JIU XING

Both products contain dexamethasone, a potent steroid that should be used only under strict medical supervision. These products claim to be able to treat several chronic ailments, such as arthritis, liver disorders, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.

HAI LENG HAI BEH HERBAL ITCH-REMOVING CAPSULE

These capsules contain dexamethasone. A woman in her 40s gained weight rapidly after taking them to relieve an itchy skin condition.

Her face also became puffy. She was later diagnosed with Cushing's syndrome, which is characterised by a "moon face" and upper-body obesity with thin limbs.

TU CHO PAN CHI PIAN

This product, which also contains dexamethasone, claims to treat rheumatic joint pain, backache and numbness of the limbs.

A man in his 70s was hospitalised for Cushing's syndrome for over a week after taking this product for lower limb weakness.

Joyce Teo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2017, with the headline 'Illegal health products'. Print Edition | Subscribe