Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Gap in U.S. Safety Regulations ; Lawsuit Filed over Death of a Soldier Who Had Used a Workout Booster

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Gap in U.S. Safety Regulations ; Lawsuit Filed over Death of a Soldier Who Had Used a Workout Booster

Article excerpt

The parents of a soldier who had used the supplement, Jack3d, have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against USPlabs, the developer and marketer of Jack3d, and GNC, the store where he bought it.

For the past few weeks, GNC, the dietary supplements retailer, has run a special on its Web site for a workout booster in powder form called Jack3d. "Hot Buy, Hot Buy, Hot Buy," reads a red banner splashed across the product's page.

Pronounced Jacked, the powder contains a stimulant that marketers say increases strength, speed and endurance. At VitaminShoppe.com, where Jack3d is also sold, a reviewer boasts, "My muscles have gained mass like never before."

Yet, last April, U.S. health regulators issued a warning that the stimulant -- called dimethylamylamine, or DMAA -- frequently raises the blood pressure and the heart rate and could lead to heart attacks. In December 2011, after the deaths of two soldiers who had used Jack3d, the Defense Department removed all products containing DMAA from stores on military bases, including more than 100 GNC shops.

Now the parents of Michael L. Sparling, one of the soldiers who died, have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against USPlabs, the developer and marketer of Jack3d, and GNC, the store where he bought it. The suit, filed Wednesday in state court in San Diego, claims that the companies deceptively marketed Jack3d as safe and effective while not warning consumers about its potential health risks. It seeks unspecified punitive damages.

In an e-mail, Laura Brophy, a spokeswoman for GNC, which is set to announce its earnings Thursday morning, said the company did not comment on pending litigation. Representatives of USPlabs and the Vitamin Shoppe did not immediately respond to e-mails or return telephone calls seeking comment.

The Sparling case highlights gaps in product safety and regulatory oversight of the $30 billion dietary supplement industry in the United States, some supplement researchers say.

Under U.S. law, supplements are defined as natural products that contain only dietary ingredients. Yet the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly originally developed the stimulant now used in Jack3d and other workout boosters as an inhaled drug for nasal congestion in the 1940s.

With prevalent chains like GNC lending their reputations and reach to such products, the researchers fault the retailers as much as manufacturers for promoting what they see as questionable supplements.

"It's a pharmaceutical-grade product which is being directly introduced into the supplement marketplace with absolutely no regulatory oversight," said Dr. Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who has studied dietary supplements.

In the medical literature, DMAA has often been described as a synthetic stimulant similar to amphetamines that can constrict blood vessels and raise the blood pressure and the heart rate, potentially increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. In 2005, supplement makers began to market the substance in workout and weight-loss products, often combining it with caffeine, which may enhance the stimulant's effects. Products like Jack3d and OxyElite Pro, which USPlabs also markets, became popular among fitness buffs as part of their preworkout routine.

Although USPlabs now makes a new version of Jack3d -- called Jack3d Micro -- without DMAA, and the products are no longer sold on military bases, the original Jack3d remains widely available at some stores and Web sites. GNC.com said that Jack3d "produces an intense sensation of drive, focus, energy, motivation and awareness." Last week, a reporter bought the original version of Jack3d at a GNC outlet in New York City.

But a study commissioned by the U.S. military after the two soldiers died raised red flags about the safety of DMAA products.

"DMAA in combination with other ingredients may be associated with significant consequences," a team of military, sports and supplement researchers wrote in case reports about the deaths of the two soldiers that was published last December in Military Medicine, the journal of the Society of Federal Health Professionals. …

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