TOKYO (AP) — Japanese health officials on Saturday raided a factory that produces health supplements. They say at least five people have lost their lives and more than a hundred others have been hospitalized.

About a dozen people dressed in dark suits solemnly entered the Osaka factory Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co. in the raid that was widely shown on Japanese TV news, including public broadcaster NHK.

The company says little is known about the exact cause of the diseases, which include kidney failure. An investigation into the products is being conducted in collaboration with government health authorities.

The supplements all used ‘benikoji’, a type of red fungus. The pink pills from Kobayashi Pharmaceuticals, called Benikoji Choleste Help, are said to help lower cholesterol levels.

Kobayashi Pharmaceutical, based in the western Japanese city of Osaka, said it has sold about one million packs in the past three fiscal years. It also sold benikoji to other manufacturers, and some products have been exported. The supplements could be purchased at drugstores without a doctor’s prescription.

In 2023, reports of health concerns surfaced, although benikoji has been used in various products for years.

Company chairman Akihiro Kobayashi has apologized for not taking action sooner. The recall came on March 22two months after the company received official medical reports about the problem.

On Friday, the company said five people had died and 114 people were being treated in hospitals after taking the products. Japan’s health ministry says the supplements are responsible for the deaths and illnesses, and warned the number of those affected could grow.

Some analysts blame recent deregulation initiatives, which have simplified and accelerated the approval of healthcare products, to stimulate economic growth. But deaths from a mass-produced item are rare in Japan because government controls on consumer products are relatively strict.

The government has ordered a review of the approval system in response to the supplement-related illnesses. A report will be published in May.


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