SINGAPORE - The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has raised the alert on four health products, including three marketed for weight loss, after five consumers reported adverse reactions to them, including one woman who now has severe heart failure.
The products were tested by the HSA and found to contain undeclared potent medicinal ingredients.
BB Body, Bello Smaze and Choco Fit contained sibutramine, a banned substance for weight loss.
Seahorse Chop Du Zhong Ba Ji Wan had dexamethasone, a potent steroid that was fraudulently added into the product, as well as chlorpheniramine and frusemide.
In one of the more severe cases, a woman in her 50s who bought BB Body from an online seller based in Malaysia developed extremely fast heart rate after taking the product for about three months.
She lost consciousness and required resuscitation to save her life, the HSA said in a statement on Monday (June 3).
The woman, who came across the product on Instagram, now suffers from severe heart failure.
She also had a defibrillator implanted to regulate her heart rhythm and requires long-term heart failure medication.
A woman in her 20s who took Bello Smaze developed palpitations and insomnia, followed by suicidal thoughts, after four days. She bought the product from a local seller to lose weight.
Her friend who recommended the product also experienced palpitations and insomnia.
In a separate case, a woman in her 30s had palpitations after consuming Choco Fit for two days.
The HSA said the adverse reactions experienced by these consumers were consistent with the effects of sibutramine, which was found in the three products.
Sibutramine was previously a prescription drug but the HSA banned it in 2010 due to an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and other serious effects.
BB Body, Bello Smaze and Choco Fit were marketed on various e-commerce and social media platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook, as having "no side effects" or able to deliver weight loss within days.
The HSA said it has directed the administrators of the local online platforms to remove the product listings.
HSA group director of health products regulation group Chan Cheng Leng said that consumers should be wary of claims or promises of quick weight loss when buying health products, whether online or in retail shops.
"Based on HSA's enforcement operations, many of the weight loss products sold on e-commerce platforms without an established retail presence were found to contain the banned substance, sibutramine," he said.
In the statement, the HSA also warned against Seahorse Chop Du Zhong Ba Ji Wan, which reportedly led to Cushing's syndrome in a man in his 40s.
The man bought the product from a medical hall in Johor Baru and took it for more than two months to relieve his arthritis.
He suffered a "moon" face, thin limbs, thinning of the skin and easy bruising.
His condition was caused by dexamethasone, a potent steroid that was fraudulently added into the product.
Tests by the HSA also found that the product contained chlorpheniramine, which is an antihistamine for allergic reactions.
The HSA also found blister strips in one of the boxes carrying a different product name and labelled as "100 per cent Natural Pure Herbal * Acti Fast", which the agency pointed out was another sign that the product was illegal.
Tests on the product showed that it contained an additional adulterant, frusemide, which is a potent medicine for removing excess water in the body.
"These findings are characteristic of illegal products which are manufactured without any quality control," the statement said.
Consumers who have bought Bello Smaze, BB Body or Choco Fit are advised to stop taking it immediately and consult a doctor if they feel unwell.
As Seahorse Chop Du Zhong Ba Ji Wan contains a potent steroid, consumers who have taken this product should see a doctor as soon as possible.
Discontinuation of steroids without proper medical supervision can cause serious withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, confusion and low blood pressure, especially if the consumer had taken the product for a few weeks.
HSA advised consumers to be wary of health products that promise or deliver quick and miraculous effects, or carry exaggerated claims.
Consumers should also avoid buying health products from unfamiliar sources overseas, and exercise caution when buying such products online, as it can be hard to be certain where and how these products were made.
The products could potentially be counterfeits or contain undeclared ingredients which can seriously harm a person's health, the HSA said.
The authority also advised sellers and suppliers to stop selling these products immediately.
Anyone who is convicted of selling illegal health products may be jailed up to three years or fined up to $100,000.
Those who have information on the sale and supply of illegal products may contact the HSA's enforcement branch on 6866-3485 during office hours or e-mail email@example.com
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.