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Three ill after taking illegal TCM products

  Tuesday, 28 l 06 l 2011  Source: The Straits Times   
By: Poon Chian Hui

AT LEAST three women have fallen ill after taking traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) health products that contain potent Western drugs. The two products are Ren Sem Tu Chon Chin Kuo Pill and Huo Li Bao. These products, which are not on sale here, are not approved for use here and are considered illegal, said the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) yesterday.

The women had bought the pills while overseas or had obtained them through family friends. The drug regulatory body was alerted to the products by doctors who suspected that the women were suffering adverse effects from taking them. The first product, Ren Sem Tu Chon Chin Kuo Pill, is claimed to relieve pain. The black round pills come in packs of 30 and are made in China. Laboratory tests found they contain dexamethasone, a steroid used to treat conditions such as arthritis, and chlorpheniramine, an antihistamine used to treat allergies.

Two women aged 50 and 80 had developed a hormonal disorder, Cushing’s syndrome, after taking the pills. One had taken them for three months; the other, for two years. They experienced symptoms like weight gain, swelling of the legs, muscle ache, frequent urination and excessive thirst – signs of prolonged steroid use. They have stopped taking the pills and are seeking medical help.

The second product, Huo Li Bao, contains anti-inflammatory drug piroxicam and potent diuretic furosemide, as well as chlorpheniramine. It is touted to treat arthritic pain and comes in packs of 30 capsules. The package states that it is made in Malaysia. A 60-year-old woman had been taking the capsules occasionally for a few years to relieve a knee inflammation. But she suffered from high blood pressure and low potassium levels in the blood. Her hormonal response was also suppressed, causing her to have low immunity to diseases. She has since recovered from the ailments after medical treatment.

The HSA advises people to be wary of traditional and complementary medicines that provide quick relief from chronic ailments, such as arthritic pain and diabetes, and “especially if these products claim to cure serious conditions”. “Such dubious health products have not been assessed by the HSA and there is no guarantee of their safety,” it said. TCM-products

HUO LI BAO (left)

  • Supposed to treat: Arthritic pain
  • Contains: Anti-inflammatory drug piroxicam, potent diuretic furosemide and antihistamine chlorpheniramine
  • Victims developed: High blood pressure, low potassium levels in blood, suppressed hormonal response causing low immunity


  • Supposed to treat: Pain
  • Contains: Steroid dexamethasone and chlorpheniramine
  • Victims developed: Hormonal disorder Cushing’s syndrome, with symptoms of weight gain, swelling in legs, muscle ache, among others
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