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Metabolife, Rexall Are Sued Over Supplement Ephedra

May 14, 2003 | Chicago Daily Herald Metabolife International Inc., Rexall Sundown Inc. and other makers of ephedra are named in a lawsuit that says the dietary supplement can cause fatal heart attacks and strokes and should be banned.

While individuals have sued makers of the diet-loss supplement, attorney Kenneth B. Moll said the suit filed today in federal court in Chicago is the first that seeks to represent all U.S. consumers injured by ephedra. Moll said the proposed class- action lawsuit may attract millions of plaintiffs and cost defendants hundreds of millions of dollars.

Demand for ephedra, which some athletes use to boost energy and enhance performance, is falling after the compound was linked to the February death of 23-year-old Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler. The U.S. Health and Human Services Department has said it wants to add restrictions on ephedra and possibly ban it.

"We think it's time to pull it from the market," said Moll, who is working on the case with other lawyers. "It's time to get this off the shelves."

The suit asks that a judge recall ephedra-based products, force companies to stop making and selling them and require that the public be informed of ephedra-related complications. Moll also is seeking compensation for alleged victims, a fund for medical monitoring and reimbursement for consumers who bought the supplement.

Illnesses Claimed

The suit was filed on behalf of Jacquelyn Castillo, Greg Van Buren and Jayne A. Burleson. Castillo, of Texas, had a seizure as result of taking ephedra dietary products, the suit said. Van Buren, also of Texas, suffered heart complications and Burleson, of Indiana, experienced heart palpitations and anxiety, the suit said.

Twinlab Corp.'s Twin Laboratories is among the defendants named in the suit in addition to San Diego-based Metabolife and Boca Raton, Florida-based Rexall, a subsidiary of the Dutch company Royal Numico NV.

Metabolife spokeswoman Jan Strode and Rexall spokeswoman Carol Walters said the companies don't comment on pending litigation. Bill Rizzardi, a spokesman for Hauppauge, New York- based Twinlab, didn't immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Twinlab said in a 2002 regulatory filing that it would stop selling ephedra-based products on March 31.

General Nutrition Cos., the largest U.S. chain of vitamin stores and another Numico subsidiary, announced May 2 that it won't sell products containing ephedra. GNC said demand for ephedra products, which accounted for 40 percent of fourth-quarter revenue, has fallen. Sales of the product are no longer significant, the company said.

Ancient Chinese Medication

Ephedra, also known as Ma Huang, has been used in medicines in China for more than 5,000 years. Ephedrine, an extract of the shrub-like plant, can cause elevated blood pressure, rapid heart beat, vomiting and other side-effects when used improperly, GNC said on its Web site.

The U.S. Food and Drug Association said in March it would require makers of dietary supplements to list all ingredients, after an increase in reports of deaths and illness linked to the products.

Major League Baseball told athletes to avoid using the stimulant after Bechler died of heatstroke. The National Football League and National Collegiate Athletic Association have banned use of ephedra, as has Suffolk County, New York.

The suit filed in Chicago said products such as Metabolife, MetaboLift, Hydroxycut, Herbalife, Herbalite, Stackers, Ripped Fuel and Extreme Ripped Force should be banned.

Other defendants include American Bodybuilding, WH Holdings Ltd.'s Herbalife International Inc., Trimspa, Next Proteins Inc., Syntrax Innovations Inc., PDK Labs Inc., Bioplex Nutrition Inc., Mega Pro International, Natural Balance, MuscleTech, Cytodyne Technologies, NVE Pharmaceuticals and EAS.

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