'Beni-koji' supplement concerns spreading overseas

Concerns about a Japanese drugmaker's health supplements containing "beni-koji," or rice fermented with red yeast, are also spreading overseas.

Five deaths have been reported in Japan in association with the products manufactured by Osaka-based Kobayashi Pharmaceutical. The patients reportedly developed kidney problems and other health issues.

In China, Kobayashi Pharmaceutical's supplements and other products are widely known. Chinese state-run media outlets have been extensively covering the related news and the topic has gathered attention on social media as well. The company announced it has suspended the sales of its products marketed online in China. It is also calling on customers to stop taking the supplements, adding that it will recall them voluntarily.

In Taiwan, local media outlets reported that a woman in her 70s, who lives in the southern city of Kaohsiung, was diagnosed with acute kidney failure in March last year after starting to take a supplement containing "beni-koji" three or four years ago.

The reports said the woman took the supplement that was manufactured by a Taiwanese company with Kobayashi Pharmaceutical's ingredients.

Local health authorities said it remains unclear whether the supplement induced the health problem. They added that they found records showing that the ingredient was imported to Taiwan. More than 30 local businesses are recalling products containing the ingredient.

As for Hong Kong, Kobayashi Pharmaceutical said its products containing beni-koji have not been sold. It added that it will recall products bought in Japan.

In Vietnam, the health ministry is warning the public not to take the supplements on the government's official website. It is also calling on people to report to authorities if they find the products. The ministry officials say the supplements have not been officially marketed in the country.

South Korea's Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said the three Kobayashi Pharmaceutical products, which Japan's Osaka City has ordered to be recalled, have not been imported to the country. It said it has not received any reports about the health problem. The ministry has urged online marketers to warn against the products and refrain from selling them.