The state of Missouri on Thursday sued the Canadian maker of a popular weight-loss supplement, accusing the company of false claims and inadequately disclosing health risks associated with one of its original ingredients, ephedra.
The lawsuit, filed in St. Louis City Circuit Court by Attorney General Jay Nixon, takes aim at Muscletech Research & Development, maker of the supplement Hydroxycut, sold in Missouri at retail drug stores, health food stores, gyms, health spas, and on the Internet.
The manager of Mississauga, Ontario-based Muscletech did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The product, which, like other supplements is not regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration, is marketed as a way to “burn fat” and lose weight rapidly, Nixon said during a news conference in St. Louis. He said the company’s own study showed that Hydroxycut had no more ability to burn fat than a placebo, and that any weight loss was a result of appetite suppression.
Photos used in product advertising were deceptive, Nixon said. In one case, the “before” photo used a woman who had just delivered a baby. The “after” photo showed the same woman as a professional fitness model.
More critical, Nixon said, is the company’s failure to disclose adequately the health risks associated with ephedra, a primary ingredient of the original Hydroxycut.
Nixon said some test participants had to drop out of the product’s internal studies because it became too dangerous for them to continue. In one instance, a test subject was rushed to the hospital for heart palpitations.
Nixon said that many bottles of Hydroxycut still on retail-outlet shelves contain ephedra, even though the “new advanced” product is said to be ephedra-free.
Ephedra is an herbal version of the powerful stimulant ephedrine, and the nutritional supplement that, according to a medical examiner, contributed to the heatstroke death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler in February.
Soon after Bechler’s death, the FDA announced that every bottle of ephedra will carry warnings that the popular herb can cause heart attacks or strokes or even kill. The FDA says at least 100 deaths have been linked to it.
Nixon’s lawsuit seeks a court order forcing Muscletech Research & Development to stop making misrepresentations about the product’s effectiveness, to pay restitution to Missouri consumers who were harmed, and to pay penalties and costs.
Nixon said Missourians who feel they have been harmed by the product should contact the attorney general’s office of consumer protection. Nixon said he is the first attorney general to sue the company although he believes private individuals have. He said it marks the first of what will be other lawsuits against makers of unregulated products that harm consumers.