HSA warns against stem cell supplements claiming to cure cancer, diabetes

The HSA warns that supplements with misleading claims such as cure for severe diseases and conditions are prevalent in the Singapore market.

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Health Sciences Authority (HSA) of Singapore has issued a warning against falsely marketing health supplements, claiming they are a form of live stem cell therapy that uses stem cells to treat or prevent a disease or condition.

According to sellers actively marketing their products on websites, social media platforms, and through friends and families, these supplements are miraculous cures for diseases and medical conditions such as cancer and diabetes. Stem cell therapies use stem cells that can differentiate into other types of cells, as well as specialised cells, to treat number of diseases and conditions.

HSA warning about stem cell therapy claims

Scientists say that the marketeers' claims of these oral placenta supplements containing live stem cells are not scientifically plausible as stem cells consumed orally will be destroyed by the enzymes in the gastrointestinal tract. Stem cells that are present in humans, animals or plants need to be stored under very low temperature of -196 degrees Celsius for them to retain activity.

According to scientists, stem cells need to be transplanted directly into patient for them to regenerate heathy cells to replace the diseased ones, and the majority of such regenerative medicine is currently still at an experimental phase.

Stem cells not sold per se

HSA of Singapore cited researchers as saying in a warning that stem cells used for such purposes must be obtained from the patient himself/herself or other human donors, and that it was not possible for stem cells derived from animal placenta to regenerate new human tissues.

The scientists said the embryonic stem cells could not form new tissues as these embryonic stem cells were not present in adults. The HSA warned that health supplements containing stem cells could not prevent or treat medical conditions such as cancer and diabetes, and that products containing live stem cells needed to be approved and registered with the regulating agency.

According to the HSA, these medicines, usually formulated as injections or infusions to maintain the biological activity and therapeutic effect of stem cells, need to undergo rigorous clinical trials, and require to meet stringent safety, quality and efficacy criteria to come up in the market.

False claims as HSA approved

The agency suggested the consumers avoided purchasing and consuming any such product, and remained wary of sellers sharing stories of individuals "cured" from their supplements. The agency said such supplements, if taken, put patients at the risk of delaying or interrupting proper medical treatment, and worsen their condition.

The regulatory body also said consumers must take their doctor's advice to make sure they were consuming right products for their particular needs. Health supplements, generally containing ingredients such as vitamins, minerals or substances derived from natural sources, are taken to supplement one's diet and enhance health.

Health supplements not subject to HSA approval

These supplements unlike medicines are not meant to prevent, treat, cure or alleviate symptoms of medical conditions and diseases. Health supplements, according to the HSA, are not subject to evaluation, approvals or licensing by the agency, but the agency prohibits the addition of medicinal ingredients such as steroids in health supplements.

The agency in its post-market surveillance program to monitor the safety of health supplements randomly checks sampling of products in the market and monitors adverse reactions to products. The agency said marketeers made false claims such as "HSA approved", "100 percent safe", "Clinically proven" or "strengthening immunity" to attract consumers.