Chinese Cautious on Popularity of Herbal Supplement

Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa (Photo by Jnzl, Creative Commons license)

Thanks to the flu epidemic that has been spreading in the U.S., a Chinese herbal supplement is becoming so popular that its price has recently gone up four times on the internet. In Chinatown, many pharmacies are seeing an increase in non-Chinese customers coming to buy the product. But they say they are holding their prices the same. The Food and Drug Administration as well as some Chinatown pharmacists warned consumers to be cautious and be aware of the risks of taking this cough syrup.

Three children have died during this flu season in New York. [A fourth child died in mid-February, city health officials confirmed.] The herbal supplement, called Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa, is believed by many to be able to alleviate flu symptoms. It is dubbed “the mysterious oriental medicine” by believers, and its retail price on the internet has gone up quickly.

A brand of this made-in-China syrup which used to sell for $6.99 in New York now sells for $28 on Amazon with a remark: “Only one left.” The fact that such an ordinary herbal supplement that’s available everywhere in China suddenly gained so many non-Chinese fans makes people working in Chinatown pharmacies dumbfounded.

“Yes, many people came to ask about Pei Pa Koa, mainly non-Chinese,” said Chinese pharmacist Yabo Wen. “I heard the price has been pushed higher online. But we didn’t raise our price. And it’s better for the customers to come here to buy it in person.” Wen said the cough syrup works well on coughs and it does help make your throat feel better. But she said some people take the herb whenever they feel a little discomfort in their throat. That’s not wise. “The syrup contains elements of ephedrine and poppy shells. One can become addicted or develop symptoms like depression or unstable behavior if they don’t strictly follow the doctor’s advice,” Wen said.

An employee at a pharmacy on Elizabeth Street said Pei Pa Koa is often a hot product during the flu season. And recently there have clearly been more non-Chinese customers purchasing the syrup. “This is a product all Chinese are familiar with. But we never expected it to suddenly become so popular,” the employee said.

Positive feedback of Pei Pa Koa floods Amazon. A customer named Elke Schneider said she added a spoonful of the syrup into warm water, and immediately felt the block in her respiratory system go away after drinking the water. Another customer named Gabriel said that it is hard to believe, like magic, and it is more effective than the medicine the doctor prescribed.

The FDA said on Feb. 24 that people should talk to their doctors before taking herbal supplements. The supplement may not be good for everyone and it shouldn’t be taken over a long period of time. Combining this supplement with other medicines may cause serious reactions.

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