Experts Voice Concern Over Rampant Intake of Food Supplements

Medical experts in Uganda have voiced their concern as patients continue to rely on food supplements to cure different ailments.
Medical experts in Uganda have voiced their concern as patients continue to rely on food supplements to cure different ailments.

This comes as companies such as QYT continue to supply supplements they claim to cure certain diseases even when used without other conventional drugs.

According to the European (WHO) Food supplements are concentrated sources of nutrients or other substances with a nutritional or physiological effect, whose purpose is to supplement the normal diet.

At QYT, located at Mawanda Road in Kampala, patients are subjected to what the administrators call a general body check-up using a metallic rode connected to a computer. The computer then scans the different body organs through the hand vessels.

These companies distribute their products through chain marketing. For instance, at QYT, any person has to buy a membership card at 51,000 shillings and then encourage people to purchase products from his or her card. The more patients buy food supplements from one's card, the more one earns.

Amos Kizito, a food supplements marketer at QYT, says that he has earned over eight million shillings from convincing people to buy supplements using his card.

David Muwanguzi, a nutritional consultant at QYT explains that different points on the hands connect with different internal organs and, that way, all the sick body organs can be revealed. Basing on the results, he says, one can then buy the food supplements like natural vitamin E, deep sea fish oil, Aloe Vera and lycopene soft to treat the diseases.

Agnes Katushabe, who has visited QYT several times, says she purchased lycopene soft, natural vitamin E, toothpaste and an energy cup to treat malaria, ulcers, diabetes and typhoid. Though the drugs cost her about 700,000 shillings, she says she was cured after five weeks.

Katushabe Jovia says that she bought some of QYT's products such as energy cup, deep sea fish oil, toothpaste and natural liquid calcium for her mother to treat what she called sharp knee pains. The pains had stopped her mother from walking and that she was able to walk a month after using the drugs.

She however notes that the sharp pain is on and off.  

Mariam Nantume, a resident of Kansanga in Kampala says she went to QYT with terrible ulcers and she was told to use the herbal tooth paste which cured her in a week. The same company later hired her to help promote its products.

QYT claims to use nutraceutical and not pharmaceutical means of treatment because it offers drugs which are purely food supplements. Muwanguzi says QYT differs from companies such as Edmark, Swissguard and GNLD because it doesn't hawk its medicine.

Experts are now voicing concern over heavy reliance on supplements saying it is risky. The experts also argue that there is need for the National Drug Authority (NDA)  and Ministry of Health to check if the machine and drugs that these companies use meet required standards.

Dr Fred Mfashingabo of Mpererwe Medical Centre says that there are so many undiscovered things in the world, so he can't conclude that these companies are false. He however adds: “I don't know the science behind the machine they use for testing and diagnosing different ailments.”

Dr Godfrey Mutebi from Family Care Medical Centre in Kampala also casts doubt on the testing procedures and treatment used by the companies. He argues that if the patient presents with an erectile dysfunction, the machine may not tell everything. He adds: “It could be a low sperm count and that can be seen when you carry out a semen analysis.”

Dr Mutebi further explains that when somebody has a urinary tract infection, they don't get a physical damage on the parts of the system. This, he says, mean that the machine will not detect the infection because even after scanning the organs, they will be okay.

Another doctor, Fred Ssemanda from St. Stephens Hospital, insists supplements just help the immune system work better. He notes that they should not replace the treatment somebody is on. You can sue them concurrently. The only problem people make is to neglect the drugs and concentrate on only those ones.” 

Maureen Nabatanzi, a nutritionist at Bomgi Nutraceuticals, says food supplements are only meant to bridge dietary gaps. She adds: “So if one doesn't eat a nutritious variety of foods, some supplements might help this individual get adequate amounts of essential nutrients.”

Nabatanzi says individuals ought to consult medical and nutritional experts beforehand especially if they'll be taking supplements with other medications. She explains that some supplements contain active ingredients that can have strong effects in the body and shouldn't be self-prescribed.

Uganda National Bureau Standards (UNBS), a body that regulates standards, measurements and product conformity, warns companies that provide food supplements not to give people false confidence.

Maurice Musuga, the UNBS Corporate Affairs Officer, explains that such supplements have to first be certified by the NDA. Musuga adds that it takes a long process to get an NDA certificate or UNBS quality mark.

Fred Ssekyana, the NDA Public Relations Officer says the drug authority has received numerous complaints from people saying that suppliers of food supplements claim that their products can cure some illnesses. Ssekyana adds: “We have been advising people to follow instructions of the medical personnel, not to abandon their drugs and medication in favor of food supplements.”

The Uganda Food and Nutrition Policy mandates the National Drug Authority (NDA) and the Nutrition Unit of the Ministry of Health to regulate the manufacture, importation, sale and distribution of food supplements. The policy acknowledges what it calls a high demand for food supplements due to problems of malnutrition, aggravated by the scourge of HIV/AIDS.

In countries such as South Africa, food supplements are considered to be foodstuffs the regulation of ingredients included in food supplements is the same as that of foodstuffs.

In Japan, under the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act, substances which are designated as medicine may not be contained in health food products, or any other food products.