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Woman who took herbal pills dies waiting for liver

  Tuesday, 21 l 12 l 2010 Source: The Straits Times   
By: Judith Tan

MADAM K. H. Leong died in hospital on Sunday, waiting for a new liver that never came. She suffered acute liver failure earlier this month after taking illegal herbal pain-relieving pills for at least eight months, till July this year. In August, while on a routine check-up, doctors discovered that the 51-year-old public relations executive had kidney problems. And later, they said she had acute liver failure and needed a new liver. 

The Malaysia-made pills contained a steroid and an antihistamine, both illegal in herbal medicine here. They were discovered when the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) tested the pills. Called Huo Luo Jing Dan, the round, black pills, about 5mm in diameter, came in plastic bags with Chinese words making the claim that they were “homemade from secret ingredients of herbs”. Madam Leong had suffered acute pain in both her wrists and underwent a carpal tunnel surgical procedure in August last year. But that failed to relieve the pain. A friend, who had also taken the pills, introduced them to her in November the same year. 

When Madam Leong was fighting for her life, several relatives and at least one colleague came forward to donate a part of their liver, but none was found suitable. She was put on a waiting list for a liver from a dead person. There have been two cases of liver failure purported to have been caused by a herbal slimming pill called Slim 10 in 2002. But it is not easy to establish a direct link between “herbal” pills and such incidents. In the 2002 incident, in which one woman died, the HSA said it was harder to test herbal products for toxic elements, given the “limited technology for testing of the constituents of herbal ingredients”.  

It said there was “no conclusive evidence” that the traditional Chinese medicine was responsible. The HSA regulates the safety and quality of Chinese Proprietary Medicines available here. Under the law, importers or local manufacturers of such medicines need to ensure their products do not contain synthetic Western drugs and prohibited ingredients. Heavy toxic metals and microbial contents must not exceed safety limits before they can be sold. HSA has also informed its Malaysian counterpart of the possible danger the pills pose.  

Related article:  Liver failure: Pills had illegal substances

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