MADSA Calls for More Efforts to Safeguard Dietary Supplements in Malaysia

WORDS DR RAJENDRAN MANICKAVASAGAM

FEATURED EXPERT
DR RAJENDRAN MANICKAVASAGAM
Malaysian Dietary Supplement Association (MADSA)

Since the onset of COVID-19, Malaysians have been taking extra care of their health.

In fact, there has been a steady demand for dietary supplements propelled by this new collective awareness towards our overall wellbeing.

However, recent price hikes have raised the average living costs in Malaysia. For some, they may have to cut back on added expenses, which includes dietary supplements.

This situation opens doors for devious, illegal activities to take place within the market, especially through e-commerce websites where counterfeit supplements are sold at absurdly low prices.

For instance, a single joint support supplement may cost RM120 to RM180 at pharmacies, but some unscrupulous sellers offer the same product for only RM38.

Additionally, certain platforms and sellers may take advantage of unassuming consumers by offering attractive discounts and vouchers, further expanding this perpetual market of deceit in terms of people’s health and wellbeing.

VERY CHEAP SUPPLEMENTS: WHAT’S THE CATCH?

The allure of a good bargain can be extremely compelling, especially when one only needs to pay a fraction of the original price. However, the consequences of purchasing from unverified vendors or websites can be severe.

Counterfeits

A multitude of these sellers often operate without the necessary quality control measures.

Without proper scrutiny, these unscrupulous vendors can easily pass off fake supplements as genuine, putting consumers at risk of ingesting unknown and possibly harmful substances.

These products also may not follow proper standards of procedures, leading to higher chances of improper handling and contamination.

Effects on the Local Supplement Market

In addition to the health risks, these unverified sources also undermine the integrity of Malaysia’s legitimate nutritional supplements market, which is valued at USD $644.88 million in 2023.

Certified brands are finding it increasingly harder to earn customers’ trust who have been victims to disingenuous sellers.

THE NEED FOR REGULATORY RECOGNITION TO PROTECT CONSUMERS

In spite of these malicious activities, Malaysia upholds strict laws and regulations to govern the manufacturing and labelling of dietary supplements.

This includes mandatory registration of documented evidence and stringent timelines for health supplements. While some counterfeit products may slip through the cracks, the Ministry of Health, via the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA), has laid out various safeguarding measures to help consumers identify the legitimacy of a product.

The Ministry of Health has also mandated that all certified health supplements must be marked with the holographic sticker called the FarmaTag, which is extremely hard for counterfeit producers to replicate. The sticker also includes an MOH-issued QR Code, a gradient design, and holographic serial and pin numbers.

Additionally, the Health Ministry has released a mobile app called FarmaChecker to help consumers confirm a product’s certification status online by scanning its QR code or typing in its serial number.

At the same time, the NPRA continues to ensure the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements, mandating safety data for supplements with new or innovative ingredients. Similarly, the Malaysian Dietary Supplement Association (MADSA) has also worked hand-in-hand with the government to promote and increase awareness of health supplements and its benefits to all Malaysians.

With the collective effort by both the government and consumers alike, we can work towards a future where all our nutritional supplements are safeguarded from the unethical practices of counterfeit producers.

By being mindful of the sources of our purchases, especially when the products involve our health and wellbeing, we can nurture a safe and healthy supplements market in Malaysia.

After all, bargaining our health for cheaper costs will never be worth the price.

MADSA CALLS MALAYSIANS TO BE VIGILANT

MADSA advises Malaysian consumers to always make sure that online supplements have been registered by the NPRA.

Check if the product has an MAL number, which verifies that it has been approved by the NPRA.

If the product that’s delivered doesn’t have such identification, return and request for a refund and report this matter to the Ministry of Health.

Hoping for a Baby? These Multivitamins May Increase Your Odds of Success!

WORDS LIM TECK CHOON

Data from a recent study conducted by Singaporean researchers suggests that multivitamin supplements that contain folic acid and iodine may be beneficial to women that are planning and hoping to conceive a child.

WHAT THE STUDY DID

The investigators interviewed 908 women between 18 and 45 years old that were trying to conceive. These women were enrolled in the Singapore PREconception Study of long-Term maternal and child Outcomes (S-PRESTO).

As an aside, S-PRESTO is a large-scale study on the effects of nutrition, lifestyle, and maternal mood prior to and during pregnancy on the effects of the baby’s genetic materials and the presence clinically important outcomes of the pregnancy. This study is beyond the scope of this article, though!

Back to this study, the investigators were interested in 2 things:

  1. Fecundity, or the measure of the chances of successful pregnancy
  2. Time to pregnancy, or the time between the first moment when the woman tries to conceive and the time of successful conception
WHAT THE INVESTIGATORS FOUND
  1. Multivitamins containing folic acid and iodine improve the success rate of having a baby when compared to those that do not take these supplements.
  2. These multivitamins also are linked to shorter time to pregnancy.
  3. Vitamins D and E do not show any significant improvements to pregnancy success rate and time to pregnancy.
  4. On the other hand, consumption of evening primrose oil is linked to lower pregnancy success rate and slightly longer time to pregnancy, compared to those that do not take this supplement.
WHY FOLIC ACID?

Folic acid, or vitamin B9, plays a role in breaking down and reducing the levels of an amino acid called homocysteine in the body.

High levels of homocysteine can cause effects that can affect fertility, such as increasing the ageing rate of a woman’s eggs and triggering the death of trophoblasts, which are cells of the outer layer of the developing embryo that helps it to attach to the woman’s endometrium for further development, protect the embryo, and eventually form the placenta.

Hence, by reducing the effects of high levels of homocysteine, folic acid can help improve the chances of a successful pregnancy.

HOW ABOUT IODINE?

Past tests on animals suggested that iodine can help improve the regulation of ovulation, increase the odds of a successful fertilization of an egg by a sperm cell following sexual intercourse, and promote successful implantation of the fertilized egg into the endometrium of the woman for further development.

Iodine also plays an important role in the development of nerve and brain cells of the foetus.

HOWEVER, SOME POINTS TO NOTE BEFORE YOU RUSH TO THE PHARMACY!

The investigators noted that more research is needed before we can make any conclusive statements about the effects of folic acid and iodine on one’s hopes of a successful pregnancy.

For example, their study did not measure the exact amounts of these nutrients that will work best on a woman hoping to conceive, and more research would be needed to determine whether their results can be replicated.

However, they believed that women trying to conceive could potentially benefit from taking multivitamin supplements containing these two nutrients, when this is also done in conjunction with other beneficial lifestyle modifications such as being physically active and cutting down on smoking and alcohol intake.


Reference: Ku, C. W., Ku, C. O., Tay, L. P. C., Xing, H. K., Cheung, Y. B., Godfrey, K. M., Colega, M. T., Teo, C., Tan, K. M. L., Chong, Y. S., Shek, L. P., Tan, K. H., Chan, S. Y., Lim, S. X., Chong, M. F., Yap, F., Chan, J. K. Y., & Loy, S. L. (2022). Dietary supplement intake and fecundability in a Singapore preconception cohort study. Nutrients, 14(23), 5110. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14235110

Children More Vulnerable to Infections During These Post-Pandemic Times?

WORDS DR LIM YIN SEAR & DR MAHFUZAH MOHAMED

FEATURED EXPERTS
DR LIM YIN SEAR
Senior Lecturer of Paediatrics
School of Medicine
Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences
Taylor’s University
DR MAHFUZAH MOHAMED
Guest Lecturer of Paediatrics
School of Medicine
Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences
Taylor’s University
NEW NORMAL LEADS TO NEW ‘CULTURE SHOCK’ FOR A CHILD’S IMMUNE SYSTEM

For the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, children were predominantly confined to their home and as a result, were less exposed to common bacteria and viruses. This will render younger children’s immune system to develop poorly.

From March 2022 onwards, as life seemed to make its way back to normality, children started to attend school, enrichment classes, and sports activities again.

This has led to many young kids falling ill with diseases such as influenza, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, and lung infections. An elevated frequency of visits to the doctor has worried many parents that their children may have weakened immune system (we say that these children are then immunocompromised).

ARE CHILDREN REALLY MORE PRONE TO INFECTIONS POST-PANDEMIC?

Currently, there is no scientific data to show that children are more prone to infections after the pandemic.

HOWEVER, THERE ARE CERTAIN FACTORS THAT CAN INDIRECTLY UP THE RISK OF INFECTIONS IN CHILDREN

A briefing by UNICEF on the impact of COVID-19 on children has shown that the prevalence of unhealthy diets such as snacking has increased. This may be due to a lack of easy access to fresh food and financial constraints, possibly leading to childhood obesity and malnourishment.

Additionally, a sedentary lifestyle and the lack of exercise could contribute to childhood obesity, escalating vulnerability to infections.

Another major issue that arose during the MCO period was the disruption of essential health services including childhood immunisations. In a recent WHO pulse survey, 90% of countries reported disruptions to routine immunisations. Immunisations are of utmost importance for preventing certain infectious diseases.

Another important issue that needs to be taken seriously is the mental health of children and their caretakers. The Adverse Childhood experience (ACE) study showed that adverse childhood experiences in categories of abuse, household challenges, and neglect are not only associated with worse mental health outcomes, but also with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, liver disease, and cancer.

POSSIBLE SIGNS THAT YOUR CHILD MAY HAVE A WEAK IMMUNE SYSTEM 
  • Frequent and recurrent pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, ear infections, meningitis, or skin infections
  • Inflammation and infection of internal organs
  • Blood disorders, such as low platelet count or anaemia
  • Digestive problems, such as cramping, loss of appetite, nausea, and diarrhoea
  • Delayed growth and development
  • Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or type 1 diabetes
TOO CLEAN ISN’T ALWAYS GOOD

Some parents go to the extreme to create a “super clean” environment to protect their children and forbid the children to play or touch anything or anyone that has not been sanitised. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, and here’s why.

In the early years, our immune system is a blank canvas. Although infectious disease is a legitimate cause for concern, and a certain level of cleanliness is necessary, children need to develop an immunity to common pathogens.

Overprotecting children from germs is detrimental to their development. Therefore, parents need to balance between a clean environment rather than a sterile environment.

HOW ABOUT HAND-WASHING AND SANITISING?

Studies have shown that soap and water are better equipped to remove more germs from one’s hand than hand sanitiser does.

However, it is still recommended to use hand sanitisers when washing with soap is not an option.

LET’S TALK ABOUT VITAMIN D

Generally speaking, children with a balanced diet and outdoor activities would attain the daily requirement of nutrients.

A minimum of 400 IU (10 µg/day) of vitamin D is recommended for children and adolescents, especially among exclusively breastfed infants and all children and adolescents who are not routinely exposed to sunlight.

Vitamin D supplementation is only recommended to those who are unable to obtain an adequate amount of vitamin D from their diet or have inadequate exposure to sunlight.

Care should be taken while consuming vitamin D supplementation. A daily vitamin D intake of 2,000 IU or more puts one at risk of vitamin D toxicity. The signs and symptoms of toxicity include headache, a metallic taste in one’s mouth, pancreatitis, nausea, and vomiting.