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Japan recalls ‘red rice’ health products over suspected link to four deaths

Tokyo CNN —

Japanese authorities have ordered three “red rice” dietary supplements to be pulled from store shelves nationwide after four users died and more than 100 others were hospitalized, sparking a health scare in the country and across the region.

Japan’s Ministry of Health on Wednesday told stores to dispose of all stock of Benikōji ColesteHelp, NaishiHelp Plus Cholesterol and Natto-kinase Sarasara Tsubu GOLD as it investigates the products by Osaka-based Kobayashi Pharmaceutical.

All three supplements contain “beni koji” — rice fermented with red yeast – an ingredient said to lower cholesterol levels that is traditionally used in food seasoning and preservation, and rice wine production. Scientists say the fermentation process can, however, produce unsafe levels of citrinin – a toxin that causes kidney dysfunction.

In a phone call with CNN on Thursday, a spokesperson for Kobayashi Pharmaceutical said all four deceased users had suffered from kidney conditions after taking Benikoji ColesteHelp. Two of them had been taking the pills since 2021, when the product was launched, and one began the routine early in 2022, the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said the company voluntarily began recalling the three products last Friday, days before it revealed the suspected link with the deaths – the cause of which remains unclear.

A preliminary investigation by the firm had detected substances it “did not intend for” in some of the materials used in the manufacturing process, the spokesperson said.

Kobayashi Pharmaceutical’s website says its beni koji products use a strain of bacteria in fermentation that does not produce citrinin.

The firm has delegated several universities to conduct independent analysis, the