Hidden risks in illegal ingredients added to slimming pills

PETALING JAYA: For about 16 years, she took slimming pills and “health supplements” to whiten her skin.

It all went well for single mother Nor Hariyati Hassan, 44, until she began noticing that one of her legs had started to swell. She was also losing her appetite. And her urine was murky.

One day, Nor Hariyati passed out.

“I decided to see the doctor about it and that was when I realised that my habit of taking ‘garbage products’ had taken a toll on my health.”

“The doctor advised me to stop consuming the supplements,” she said.

She followed the doctor’s advice, but perhaps it was too late.

In 2015, she had to undergo dialysis treatment as both of her kidneys were not functioning properly, she told The Star.

She now has to visit a community dialysis centre three times a week, for four hours each session.

“I have to do this (the treatment) until the end of my life. I can’t miss even one session if I want to stay healthy,” she said, adding that she hoped to have a kidney transplant one day.

Nor Hariyati said she was ignorant of the health impact of illegal supplements back in 1999 because access to information was very limited.

“There was no Internet back then. I had no idea of the effects. I kept on taking the pills. I wanted to slim down and have fairer skin.

“But it came with a hefty price,” said Nor Hariyati, who is from Kuala Kedah, Kedah.

These days, she wants to create public awareness, and has been doing so through TikTok.

Her TikTok account, @tatierana79, has almost 10,000 followers.

She said she would not want other people to go through the same experience as her.

“I want to tell the public about the harm caused by consuming illegal supplements. I don’t want them to end up like me.”

Some of her peers, she said, quit consuming unauthorised supplements after seeing her condition.

“It’s good that they realised it. I will continue to educate others,” she added.

She said she decided to spread awareness through social media as she noticed that there had been an increase in so-called “health supplements” online.

According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2022 on Adult Health Survey, one in every three adults is overweight.

The prevalence of people with obesity has also increased from 10.6% in 2012 to 14.3% in 2022.

Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Assoc Prof Dr Barakatun Nisak Mohd Yusof said individuals who are obese should seek professional help instead of relying on their own methods.

“We are talking about obesity – the accumulation of fat that impairs health. Obesity is a disease that is chronic and requires long-term care.

“So, please seek help from healthcare professionals,” said the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences deputy dean.

Malaysian Pharmacists Society president Amrahi Buang said the public should be wary of some herbal products sold in the illegal market and promoted as weight loss supplements.

“Some herbal products marketed for weight loss have been found to be adulterated with sibutramine, which is a controlled substance. It was previously used as an active ingredient in some weight loss pills.

“Sibutramine was removed from the market due to safety concerns, as it can significantly increase blood pressure and interact with other medications in life-threatening ways,” he said.

Amrahi said it was important for consumers to buy herbal weight loss products only from regulated producers while also receiving consultations from professionals.

For instance, a certain prescription for weight loss could be effective for some people, but it should still be used only with the guidance of a healthcare professional and taken together with a healthy diet and an exercise regimen, he said.

Malaysian Society of Nephrology president Dr Lily Mushahar said one should avoid taking slimming products with other medications as it could potentially cause organ failure.

“Slimming or weight loss pills can cause serious kidney, liver and organ failure.

“This damage can be reversible after stopping the drug, but sometimes it can cause permanent damage.

“Fat-blocking or herbal slimming drugs may have diuretic effects, causing crystal or stone formation that can irritate the kidneys,” she said.

According to the Health Ministry, the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) has received several reports of adverse drug reactions due to the use of unregistered health supplement products.

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