Health functional food now in spotlight due to COVID-19… careless consumption causes side effects
Health functional food now in spotlight due to COVID-19… careless consumption causes side effects
  • 이원국 기자 (
  • 승인 2020.09.15 10:26
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Global health functional food market size about to reach USD 162.5 billion by 2021
More than 4,000 cases of side effects of health functional food reported in the last 5 years
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety prepares guidelines for reporting such adverse events
As much as it helps with health maintenance and improving one’s body constitution, health functional food is a food developed for general consumers rather than for a specific group of people. As a result, side effects may occur (picture = Clipart Korea).

Several years ago, Bill Gates stated, “If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war.” This came true. Currently, the whole world is greatly suffering from the coronavirus outbreak.

The problem is that the mortality rate is high in elderly people once become infected with the coronavirus as they have a weaker immune system. According to WHO, it was calculated that more than 40% of the deaths caused by COVID-19 occurred in elderly nursing homes all around the world. Hence, health functional food known for strengthening the immune system has been receiving a spotlight.

According to the data from Korea Health Supplements Association (KHSA), the global health functional food market size reached USD 100 billion in 2013 (KRW 122 trillion) and has rapidly grown to be expected to reach USD 162.5 billion (KRW 199 trillion) by 2021.

Korea’s domestic health functional food market has gone through annual growth as well from the size of KRW 172.8 billion in 2017 to KRW 4.6 trillion last year. This implies that 78 out of 100 individuals purchased a health functional food product once a year.

■Health functional food is different from a medicine: misusage can rather be a “poison”

Health functional food indicates food that uses raw materials and ingredients with functionalities useful to the human body.

Due to this reason, health functional food is different from a medical supply. While medicines are developed for disease diagnosis, treatment, and other pharmacological effects, health functional food is a food that can aid in health maintenance and improvement of an individual’s body constitution. In other words, because a health functional food is developed for general consumers and not for a specific group of people, side effects can occur. As a result, an individual should consume in a way that is suitable to oneself rather than carelessly consuming and considering it as a panacea.

However, the number of adverse events has been recently increasing due to the careless consumption of health functional food. According to the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS), symptoms of adverse events mostly present diarrhea, abdominal pain, hives, nausea, and constipation.

Commonly reported symptoms depending on product types were the following: ▲gastrointestinal disorders, diarrhea, and vomiting for nutritional supplement products ▲diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain for probiotic products ▲itchiness, diarrhea, hives, and indigestion for DHA/EPA-containing products ▲diarrhea, hives, abdominal pain, and menstrual disorders for garcinia Cambogia extract products.

“Although dietary supplements may have efficacy, significant weight loss can never occur with only the supplement,” Professor Kim Joo-young of Seoul National University Bundang Hospital Department of Family Medicine said. “While the side effects of prescriptions are preventable beforehand, taking supplements may bring functional problems in the liver and kidney as they are not clinically proven.”

■Ministry of Food and Drug Safety prepares guidelines for reporting adverse events of health functional food

Reports of experiencing side effects after consuming health functional food were more than 4000 cases in the last 5 years.

According to MFDS, the number of reports of adverse events in health functional food showed an annual upward trend from 502 cases in 2015 to 696 cases in 2016, 874 cases in 2017, 964 cases in 2018, and 1,132 cases in 2019.

As a result, on the 13th, the MFDS revealed that they are publishing a guidebook comprised of detailed reporting procedures and proper measures for sellers of health functional food to use when reporting adverse events.

This guidebook focuses on amending the Health Functional Foods Act to prevent damage in consumers from health functional food consumption, requiring reporting of adverse events once an adverse event is suspected. The main contents of the guidebook are ▲where to report and reporting deadlines ▲the management system of adverse events ▲how to report adverse events.

“A seller must report an adverse event within 7 days of discovery,” an employee of MFDS stated commented. “MFDS plans to clearly investigate the causal relationship between the number of side effects and strengthened management system of health functional food side effects throughout the future and expects to actively reveal the results to the public.”

Tip. Steps to safely purchase and correctly consume products

1. Purchase a product, which passed the safety review.

Do not be dazzled by false advertisements but purchase products with the MFDS certified mark attached.

2. Do not consume unsuitable health functional food just because you are suggested.

When purchasing a health functional food, purchase a product suitable for your health condition after consulting with an expert. Especially when you are consuming another medical product, you must consume the health functional food after consulting with your doctor.

3. When consuming health functional food, follow the adequate intake recommendation.

Because side effects can occur with excessive intake, you must consume the adequate intake recommended by the intake procedure of the product.

4. Do not consume multiple types of health functional food at once.

If you consume a variety of health functional food all at once, side effects can occur along with reduced efficacy.

5. Do not blindly trust the functionality of health functional food

You must not think of health functional food as a panacea and prioritize it before a medical product which is for disease treatment.

*Reference: Samsung Medical Center “Safe food, correctly know about health functional food”


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