Sales in Japan of supplements claiming to have health benefits have fallen 7.7 percent from a year earlier after reports of hospitalizations linked to a red yeast rice dietary supplement, according to recent industry data.

Sales of supplements classed as food claiming functional benefits to the body dropped in the week from March 25 for the first time in 11 weeks to 870 million yen ($5.6 million) amid growing concerns about such products, Intage Inc. said.

File photo shows bags of "beni-koji" red yeast rice dietary supplements manufactured by Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co. in Osaka on April 7, 2024. (Kyodo)

The drop came after Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co. reported on March 22 that some people developed health problems after taking its "beni-koji" red yeast rice dietary supplements. Five people were later reported by the company to have died after consuming the product.

The decline in sales was notably seen in supplements that claim, like the products sold by Kobayashi Pharmaceutical, to reduce levels of cholesterol, according to the estimate based on cash register data from about 6,000 grocery, convenience and drug stores, Intage said.

Prior to the scandal, the market for supplements claiming functional benefits to the body, such as aiding in reducing body fat or improving eye function, had been expanding, particularly amid growing interest in health issues following the coronavirus pandemic. Sales surged 16.0 percent in 2023 from the previous year to 49.1 billion yen.

The classification introduced in 2015 allows companies to label their products as beneficial to health based on scientific evidence submitted to the Consumer Affairs Agency, but they do not undergo government safety or efficacy inspections.

"A scandal involving a major company occurred under the system established by the government. Consumer trust was betrayed and distrust is likely to have spread," an industry source said.

"We receive hundreds of calls per day at the call center asking whether a product is okay," said a source from a food manufacturer.

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