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Home > Editorial

Are Health Supplements Necessary?

The recent ban of Pan Pharmaceutical Ltd. health products not only comes as a surprise but open our eyes to the relevance of such products to the overall well being of the body. If not for the ban, health and food supplements will be in greater demand than before what with the prevailing Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Irresponsible producers of health supplements have manipulated the general population’s fear over the SARS epidemic through questionable advertisement claiming the effectiveness of their products. The public is therefore misled to believe that such products might cure or help them avert the deadly disease.

Pan Pharmaceutical Ltd. is an Australian company and based in Australia. It produces 1,639 health related products, all manufactured in Australia. Only 219 of its products are sold in Australia while the rest is for export therefore raising questionable doubts on the quality of the export-only products. Is there something wrong with these products that causes Pan Pharmaceutical not to market them in their country of origin?

The event that triggered the ban on Pan Pharmaceutical was the prescription drug “Travacalm” that was supposed to alleviate motion sickness of air and sea travellers. After taking this particular medicine, 19 people attempted to jump out of the plane they were travelling in due to severe hallucinations.

After conducting an investigation, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) of Australia suspended the company’s licence for six months effective from April 30 following evidence that showed ingredients were substituted, test results manipulated and substandard of manufacturing process. The TGA also found tablets containing ingredients with doses much higher than the label indicated and the worst discovery involved substituting shark cartilage with beef cartilage in a shark cartilage preparation.

Following the announcement of the ban of Pan Pharmaceutical products in Malaysia, it has created a furore among the local consumers. Surprisingly the outburst was based on the rights of consumers who had purchased the banned products and whether they could claim their money back. Nobody even questioned the side effects, if any, of long term consumption of these supplements to their health. To date, the question of refund is still not fully settled yet.

The recall and subsequent ban of Pan Pharmaceutical products is a loud and clear message to all of us to be wary of such products. In fact, what happened to Pan Pharmaceutical health and food supplements is not the first incident and yet it seems that the government is still maintaining its lackadaisical attitude over such products.

In 1997, the diet pill Fen-phen was found to cause heart and circulatory problems and most recently, in July 2002 the slimming pill, Slim 10, from Yuzhitang Health Products of Guangdong, China was blamed for liver toxicity, causing deaths in Japan and Singapore.

Despite these incidents, people still continue to consume health supplements and according to the Malaysian Dietary Supplements Association (Madsa), the supplement business is worth RM4.65bil in 1999 and its annual growth rate is 15%.

So, the question is : Are they any real benefits in taking such supplements? According to a study done by the British Heart Protection on vitamins in mid-2002, 20,000 people between the age of 40 to 80 who took a daily dose of three vitamins did not derive any health benefits from such pills. “Over five years we saw absolutely no effectl Vitamin pills are a waste of time. There was no evidence of any protective effect against heart disease, cancer or any other outcome. They are safe, but they are useless,” commented Dr. Rory Collins and Dr. Jane Armitage of Oxford University who conducted the study. Dr. Armitage even went so far as to add, “People would be far better off spending the money on fresh fruit and vegetables." The result of this study confirmed the growing consensus among scientists that the benefits of fruit and vegetables cannot easily be replicated in supplement form.

To end, the next time before you pop that vitamin C and multivitamins into your mouth, stop and think a little. Do you really need to take all these pills and are they effective and beneficial for you? How about your diet? Are you having a balanced meal? If so, do you still think these pills are necessary for you? If not, why not change your eating habit instead of pill-popping?

by Jane Mun
Editor of



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