So I got me some of them reasonably famous Po Chai Pills here in Hong Kong. The name means “protective aid” pills, but you won’t be able to tell much from that. And the box info deploys the standard ass-covering elusiveness that alternative medicine types have been perfecting over the years: it says that the stuff “is good for relieving” (note, not “is a cure for” or “will relieve“) the following:
fever, diarrhoea, intoxication, over-eating, vomiting and gastrointestinal diseases.
Yep, they’re saying it’s good for relieving intoxication. As opposed to hangovers. Good luck in court with that one.
The ingredients include a hodge podge of common traditional Chinese medicine bits and pieces, including poria, pogostemonis, and, erm, semen coicis (don’t worry, it’s just a plant seed). Worryingly, the ingredients list ends with an “etc.”
This may reflect the fact that a couple of years ago, Po Chai capsules were withdrawn from sale in Singapore and Hong Kong after the government found that they contained a few stray ingredients not mentioned on any boxes.
The capsules were found to contain traces of phenolphthalein and sibutramine. Phenolphthalein is a laxative that causes cancer (now there’s a double whammy and a half) while sibutramine is an anorexiant that causes heart attacks (touché).
The bottled tablet form of the stuff has since returned to the shelves, presumably no longer containing any carcinogenic laxatives, but presumably still claiming to be produced using the traditional recipe and procedure developed way back in 1896. That “etc” sure covers a multitude.
But it’s true what they say on the internet. Po Chai Pills do come in a kick-ass box.
So that’s okay then.
Brian Hughes is an academic psychologist and university professor in Galway, Ireland, specialising in stress, health, and the application of psychology to social issues. He writes widely on the psychology of empiricism and of empirically disputable claims, especially as they pertain to science, health, medicine, and politics.