Health authorities warn 'diet coffee' product promoted in Myanmar could be harmful

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Facebook users in Myanmar have repeatedly shared posts promoting a potentially harmful "diet coffee" product called Vitaccino alongside false claims it can help consumers lose weight without any side effects. However, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told AFP the product contains a controlled substance known to "present a significant risk for patients with a history of coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, or stroke". Authorities in neighbouring Thailand said the product had been banned in the kingdom.

The post was shared here on Facebook on October 20, 2022.

The post's Burmese-language caption translates in part as: "Authentic diet coffee Vitaccino, the old version has arrived. Don’t worry about not losing weight. Vitaccino diet coffee is here."

The post goes on to claim the drink can help with losing "10 to 20 pounds" (about 4.5 to 9 kilos) naturally by promoting bowel movement and "controlling appetite without giving [consumers] diarrhoea".

"It can also reduce cholesterol in your bloodstream and can help you prevent strokes. The coffee has no side effects and can be used for adults from 18 to 60 of age," the post reads.

Screenshot taken on November 30, 2022 of the misleading post

Similar posts advertising the product have also been shared dozens of times on Facebook here, here, here, here and here.

However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told AFP it found Vitaccino contains sibutramine, a controlled drug that poses a threat to consumers, particularly those with a history of heart problems and stroke.

Health warning

The FDA published a warning about the product in September 2014.

An FDA spokeswoman told AFP on November 29, 2022 that sibutramine was removed from the market in October 2010 for safety reasons.

"The product poses a threat to consumers because sibutramine is known to substantially increase blood pressure and/or pulse rate in some patients," she said.

"Sibutramine may also present a significant risk for patients with a history of coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, or stroke," she added.

The spokeswoman also said the product "may also interact, in life-threatening ways, with other medications a consumer may be taking".

Its manufacturer, Dash Xclusive, voluntarily recalled Vitaccino in the US in May 2021.

Thai ban

Some of the false Facebook posts promoting Vitaccino claim it is made in Thailand.

But an administrator of the Facebook page of the Thai Food and Drug Administration told AFP on December 1, 2022 that the product is "illegal" and is not authorised in the country.

The Thai FDA published an article on July 21, 2022 which reads: "The Royal Thai Police - FDA announced the results of an investigation into illegal drugs, food and cosmetics sales in the Pratunam area with a total value of more than 200,000 baht."

Vitaccino was classed as a "food supplement product without food serial numbers," in the Thai-language article.

A live video of the announcement was posted to Facebook on the same day by the Thai FDA here. The coffee drink can be seen as part of a display of banned items at the video's 11-minute, 36-second mark.

In the video, officials can be heard referencing the Vitaccino product, saying it had a misleading, incorrect label that did not include an authorisation number from the Thai FDA.

"Previously, we sent our investigative report to the Department of Medical Sciences at the Ministry of Public Health and found that these products include a drug that falls into the controlled psychotropic substances category one, called sibutramine. This is hazardous," they added.

Fact Crescendo, an independent Burmese fact-check site, also debunked a similar claim about the product.