An "all-natural" weight loss fad which began five years ago in Taiwan can cause permanent -- and in some cases fatal -- lung damage, doctors and researchers said yesterday.
Sauropus androgynous, known here in Taiwan as "the diet vegetable" (
In medical circles, however, it quickly became known as a leading cause of obstructive lung disease.
Patients complaining of a dry cough, shortness of breath and gradual respiratory failure after eating sauropus began to surface in 1995 -- about two years after the vegetable was first imported from Southeast Asia -- according to medical journal reports. At the peak of the trend between July and November 1995, 104 patients were treated at Taichung Veterans' General Hospital, according to the China Medical Journal.
A total of 278 cases of lung failure resulting from sauropus have been reported to date at the Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung veterans' general hospitals, chest surgeon Fu Chen-chung (
Patients who consumed high levels of the vegetable were worst affected, especially those consuming the plant in the form of its uncooked extract, according to research conducted at Taipei Veterans' General Hospital.
All were healthy non-smokers, and all were women in their twenties and thirties, Fu said.
Women were primarily affected as they tend to diet and use weight-loss products more often than men, he said.
In most cases the damage was long-term. Of the 55 candidates for lung transplants in the last two years, 15 percent have been women who took sauropus, said Tsai Wen-chin (蔡文欽), director of the Bureau of National Health Insurance's medical review task force.
Of the four who were given transplants, two have died, he said. Four are still awaiting donors.
According to the China Medical Journal and the American College of Chest Physicians, sauropus contains high amounts of the alkaloid papaverine, thought to cause the lung problems which affect primarily the bronchioles.
Papaverine, which relaxes the blood vessels, is used as a prescription drug for a variety of ailments.
The reasons why sauropus affects the lungs and not other major systems is still a mystery, said Fu, who is also deputy director of the Cheng Hsin Medical Center in Taipei.
Fu said the sauropus patients he had seen "were all very healthy. It's only because they wanted so badly to be thin that they did irreparable damage to their lungs."
Most of the patients he had seen now have chronic lung problems which will require life-long treatment.
Ironically, sauropus is also high in a wide variety of vitamins.
Only in Taiwan has the vegetable been popular as a diet method. Elsewhere in East and Southeast Asia, it is prized for its taste and high nutritional value when added to salads, stir-fry dishes, soups and casseroles.
Using sauropus as a weight-loss product is not worth the potential costs, Fu said.
The average amount of weight lost by lung patients who had drunk the extract regularly for a month was three kilograms, he said.
"It's not difficult to lose this amount of weight with exercise and a sensible diet," he said.
Tsai encouraged anyone interested in losing weight to consult a doctor or health care profes-sional.
"It's not necessarily chemical diet products that create the biggest problems," he said.
* Also known as diet vegetable (減肥菜), sweet leaf bush, chekkurmensis, chekup manis, changkok manis or katuk
* Leafy green perennial vegetable
* Cultivated in India, Malaysia, Indonesia, southwest China and Vietnam
* Eaten raw, cooked, as a juice extract or added to a variety of dishes
* Has been linked to obstructive lung disease when taken in massive amounts
KEEP AWAY: People should wear a mask in places where they cannot follow social distancing rules, the CECC said, adding that it would publish detailed guidelines today The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday announced 16 new cases of COVID-19, including two domestic cases, as it urged people to practice social distancing in public spaces by keeping a distance of at least 1m when outdoors and 1.5m indoors. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said that seven of the new cases tested positive upon their arrival at the airport, four were under home quarantine, one was under home isolation and two were under self-health management, while the two domestic cases sought treatment on their own. The domestic cases are a man in his
Taiwan will negotiate with the WHO about its participation without Beijing’s help and intervention as more countries, including Australia and Japan, are partnering with Taiwan to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a telephonic roundtable with reporters on Monday also supported Taiwan’s role in the WHO, saying the US Department of State would do its best to assist Taiwan’s “appropriate role” in the world’s highest health policy setting body, Voice of America reported. In a Japan Business Press report published on Sunday, Chinese Ambassador to Japan Kong Xuanyou (孔鉉佑) said
‘HEROIC’: A lack of personal protective equipment has led to high infection rates among health workers in places like Spain and Italy, a nurses’ association said More equipment is needed to protect the world’s nurses working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic to save lives, the head of the International Council of Nurses (ICN) said. “They are heroic. I think there is no other way to describe what they are doing at this moment,” said Howard Catton, a British nurse who is the council’s CEO. Infection rates of 9 percent and 12 to 14 percent have been reported among health workers in Italy and Spain respectively, he said, adding that nurses have died in the two nations, as well as Iran and Indonesia. “We have no doubt
Japan’s ruling party yesterday proposed the nation’s biggest-ever stimulus package of ￥60 trillion (US$554 billion) as the COVID-19 pandemic locks the economy in a recession. The sum includes ￥20 trillion in fiscal measures with private initiatives and other elements likely making up the rest, the proposal by the Liberal Democratic Party showed. More than ￥10 trillion, or the equivalent of a 5 percentage point cut in the sales tax rate, would be handed out to the public in a combination of cash, subsidies and coupons, the plan showed. The proposal puts an initial figure on a stimulus package that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo