Consumer protection in Hong Kong

Suggested dosage of three foreign vitamin brands in Hong Kong found to exceed levels for Chinese consumers, watchdog says

Consumer Council says benchmarks across regions are different and warns against long-term reliance on supplements, urging healthy lifestyle and diet instead

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2018, 4:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2018, 8:20pm

Three foreign vitamin products sold in Hong Kong were found to have dosage recommendations on their labels exceeding levels set out for Chinese consumers, the city’s consumer watchdog warned on Tuesday.

The announcement by the Consumer Council came after it studied 76 brands of supplement products with reference to the “daily tolerable upper intake level” stated by mainland-based Chinese Nutrition Society, a research institute which provides nutritional guidelines based on research and data on the Chinese population.

Six other brands were also found to have dosage recommendations on their labels equivalent to the society’s stated level. While these did not exceed the mark, council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han cautioned that suggested dosage levels on products should be much less than the level referenced in its tests.

The council added that while the products adhered to American and Canadian standards, benchmarks varied across places because of the different dietary patterns of consumers.

The council stressed maintaining a healthy lifestyle through a good diet and work-life balance was far more effective than relying on vitamins.

“Excessive intake of vitamin supplements over a prolonged period of time has no proper health benefits and may lead to adverse effects,” said Dr Karen Shum Hau-yan, the council’s research and testing committee chairwoman.

Excessive intake of vitamin supplements over a prolonged period of time has no proper health benefits and may lead to adverse effects
Dr Karen Shum, Consumer Council

Two Vitamin B supplement brands were found to contain 100 milligrams of vitamin B6 per pill. The vitamin facilitates protein metabolism and the building of red blood cells and hormones.

The two brands were Adrien Gagnon B Complex 100 with Folic Acid and Webber Naturals Vitamin B100 Complex Timed Release.

The council warned if an adult consumed one such tablet from either brand, the maximum daily consumption level of 60 milligrams of vitamin B6, stated by the Chinese Nutrition Society, would be exceeded.

Shum said excessive absorption of vitamin B6 could cause nerve diseases and skin problems, for example, extreme sensitivity to sunlight.

The third brand beyond the mark was Adrien Gagnon Natural Vitamin E 400 IU, which was found to be in excess of the level for four-year-old children.

The watchdog also found that the advised dosage of GNC Women’s Prenatal Program, made in the United States, contained 1,000 micrograms of folic acid, which was equal to the upper tolerable limit of what an adult can consume per day, according to the society.

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Shum said folic acid was vital for pregnant women and sufficient amounts could reduce the risk of the fetus developing neural tube defects – birth defects of the brain, spine or spinal cord. But she cautioned that excess absorption of the acid could increase chances of neuro-development problems or autism in the baby.

The council quoted GNC’s response to the findings, saying the sample tested and the dosage recommended on its label was from an old packaging that was no longer in use.

Council chief executive Wong reiterated that label dosages should be far less than the referenced limit provided by the Chinese Nutrition Society. For example, while the society’s “upper daily tolerable intake level” for folic acid was 1,000 micrograms, the suggested dosage on product labels should be just 400 micrograms.

“It’s impossible to keep exerting pressure on your body,” Wong said.

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“So normally the daily recommended intake level should be a basic benchmark.”

The agents of Webber Naturals and Adrien Gagnon told the council that their products were in line with the Canadian standard.

The council also pointed out that only 16 – or 21 per cent – of the items tested were locally registered as pharmaceutical products under the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance. The remainder may be categorised as general food products and regulated under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance.

Wong urged the government to step up regulation and ensure that consumers understood the content of products and their suitability.

She also called on consumers to learn more about products and consult medical staff if necessary.