Red Yeast Rice Supplements Crisis: Two Deaths And 100+ Hospitalised in Japan

red yeast rice supplements

Japan is grappling with a health crisis attributed to over-the-counter dietary supplements intended to lower cholesterol levels.

The Japanese government confirmed two deaths and over a hundred hospitalisations, prompting an investigation into the supplements produced by Kobayashi Pharmaceutical. The products in question, including “beni koji choleste help”, contain red yeast rice, known for its cholesterol-lowering properties but also associated with risks of organ damage.

The Recall and Investigation

Kobayashi Pharmaceutical initiated a recall of three supplement brands after receiving reports of kidney-related complaints from consumers. The company, a prominent health product manufacturer marketed through television in Japan, acknowledged two possible deaths linked to the supplements but has yet to confirm a direct causation. In response, dozens of Japanese firms that utilised Kobayashi’s beni koji in their products have announced recalls, affecting a range of goods from health tablets to traditional food items.

Health Minister’s Response

Health Minister Keizo Takemi reported that the government had demanded Kobayashi Pharmaceutical to share information regarding the incident swiftly. Nationwide, local authorities have been instructed to gather data on health damages. This statement came as Kobayashi Pharmaceutical’s shares dropped by 4% following the announcement.

The Role of Red Yeast Rice

Red yeast rice, a staple in some medical studies as a statin alternative, undergoes scrutiny due to its chemical composition, which may cause organ damage. When mixed with food fungus, this fermenting agent offers a natural remedy for high cholesterol. However, concerns arise with products containing significant amounts of monacolin K, mirroring the effects and side effects of clinically approved cholesterol medications.

Mould Contamination Suspected

Experts suggest mould outside the production facility may have contaminated the dietary supplements. Initial investigations hint at puberulic acid, a toxin from blue mould, as a potential cause. This finding, primarily in products made during a specific period, points towards external contamination rather than internal factory conditions.

Factory Inspection and Production Shift

Following the health scare, health ministry inspectors and local authorities examined Kobayashi’s Osaka plant, which ceased operations partly due to age. Production has since moved to a Wakayama facility, and no sanitary issues have been reported thus far. Despite these measures, establishing a direct link between red yeast rice supplements and reported illnesses remains challenging, with experts indicating that a lengthy investigation is ahead.

Public Health Concerns

This incident has raised significant public health concerns, spotlighting the need for stringent quality controls and transparent communication from health product manufacturers. As investigations continue, the health ministry’s efforts to trace and test products containing Kobayashi’s red yeast rice underscore the urgency of addressing potential health risks associated with dietary supplements.


Japan’s health crisis linked to dietary supplements underscores the complexities of natural remedies and the importance of regulatory oversight. As Kobayashi Pharmaceutical and health authorities work to uncover the root cause of the illnesses, the incident serves as a cautionary tale about the potential risks of dietary supplements and the critical need for consumer vigilance in product selection and use. Photo Credit: Suzu Takahashi    

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