Scott: You see them everywhere – powders, shakes, vitamins and supplements, all promising to make you thinner or stronger or faster. The nutritional supplement industry is booming, bringing in more than $32 billion a year. But Keith Kocinski shows us that you can’t always trust their promises.
Cody Sparling: He was my best friend. We could talk about anything.
Keith: Michael Sparling was a healthy 22-year-old soldier. He had just graduated Army basic training with dreams of being part of the military for life.
Leanne Sparling: The day that a hole was placed in our hearts. And it’s the day that our life did totally change.
Keith: That day was June 1st, 2011. Michael and his squad at Fort Bliss Army Base were out for a short run when Michael suddenly collapsed and was rushed to the hospital.
Leanne: He said, ‘ma’am, I’m very sorry but we’ve done everything we could for your boy, but at 11:17 this morning, he passed away.’ It just didn’t seem true.
Keith: Michael was in the best shape of his life following basic training, so his family wanted answers.
Leanne: How can a healthy 22-year-old man die of a heart attack? How does that happen?
Keith: His family says the doctor told them it could have been because of a supplement he was taking called Jack3d, made by USP Labs. It is designed to give a person energy before a workout and a boost during. One of the ingredients? Dimethylamylamine, also known as DMAA, a pharmaceutical drug that shouldn’t be showing up in a supplement.
Dr. Pieter Cohen: I have absolutely seen in autopsy reports that when you look at the cause of death, it says four letters – DMAA.
Keith: Dr. Pieter Cohen conducts research on dietary supplements.
Dr. Cohen: These pre-workout supplements are notoriously problematic. There are a lot of things that companies are putting in there that’s not so safe. And often we don’t even know about its safety records.
Keith: Michaels’ family sued USP Labs and GNC, where he bought Jack3d. They are not the only ones. More than 30 people are suing USP Labs after taking Jack3d or another one of its supplements, OxyElite Pro, which has been linked to liver damage.
The attorneys for USP Labs told us they could not comment on an ongoing case. Though, in a court document, they do say studies sponsored by the company show that the “use of the products and/or the ingredients is safe for human consumption”.
The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, banned DMAA in dietary supplements. And USP Labs pulled Jack3d off the shelves in 2013, then reformulated it without DMAA.
But if there is a question about its safety, how did this get on the shelves in the first place?
Daniel Fabricant: In 1994, there were 4,000 products on the market. By our estimates, there are about 85,000 now.
Keith: We asked Daniel Fabricant, director of the FDA’s Supplement Programs Department, which regulates and enforces rules around supplements. He says reports of bad side effects have doubled in just the last two years.
Why do you think more isn’t done initially to make sure that this doesn’t happen off the bat?
Daniel: It’s just the way the law works. Dietary supplements are regulated as a category of food, not a drug. Drugs are proven safe and effective prior to going to market, dietary supplements as a category of food aren’t.
Keith: Current law doesn’t require any testing of supplements before they hit the market as long as the supplement only uses authorized ingredients.
Dr. Cohen: We have found time and time again, in other types of supplements, is that what’s on the label doesn’t reflect what’s actually in the powder.
Keith: Dr. Cohen says labels are also difficult to understand and the government doesn’t do a good job tracking problems. Doctors and hospitals don’t always report negative side effects to the FDA.
Dr. Cohen: Every time we found a dangerous ingredient in supplements, it’s been on the market for quite some time. In the case of DMAA, it was on the market for six years before the FDA notified the public.
Keith: And this isn’t the first time a harmful ingredient has been used in dietary supplements. In 2004, the FDA banned a popular herb used in supplements called ephedra after reports that nearly two dozen people died.
So, in many ways, it is up to the consumer to make sure what they are taking is safe.
Leanne: He would want us to do what we’re doing.
Keith: And the Sparlings hope to help protect others too…in Michael’s name.
Cody: I really wish it didn’t happen. I really do. But through this, we are going to save more lives. And that is what Michael would want.
Keith: Keith Kocinski, Channel One News.
Scott: So what supplements are safe? And which ones could be okay? Well, Keith breaks it down in Part 2 of his series tomorrow. And for more from his look at the supplement industry, check out his blog post over at ChannelOne.com.