Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon on Thursday sued the maker of Hydroxycut, a popular supplement marketed to dieters, athletes and students as a safe and tested over-the-counter way to rapidly lose body fat.
The suit claims the manufacturer failed to disclose health risks associated with Hydroxycut containing ephedra, and that claims that the product is “clinically proven” to be a “fat-burner” are false.
Nixon said he was acting because the Food and Drug Administration isn’t. “This is the first of a number of actions” against unsafe supplements, he said.
Within minutes of the suit being filed in St. Louis Circuit Court, a local TV station ran an ad touting a “new” Hydroxycut as “ephedra-free.” The ad followed the station’s story about Nixon announcing the lawsuit.
Nixon said there is still plenty of the “old” Hydroxycut being sold in retail stores, over the Internet and by phone without any clear warnings.
Ephedra can be dangerous. It has been linked to deaths, strokes, heart arrhythmias and psychotic episodes. Investigators say it may have contributed to the death last month of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, 23, who collapsed after a workout.
Hydroxycut manufacturer MuscleTech Research and Development Inc. of MississaugaOntario, did not respond to requests for comment.
The Hydroxycut national distributor in Scranton, Pa., said he wouldn’t disclose the phone number for corporate headquarters. “I’m not sure they want to comment,” he said as he hung up.
Nixon said MuscleTech’s ads also are fraudulent: One portrays “before” and “after” photos of a woman who supposedly took the supplement.
The ads don’t disclose that the “before” photo was taken soon after the woman gave birth, Nixon said. He described the woman as a well-known fitness model before she used Hydroxycut.
The lawsuit says that MuscleTech’s own study showed that Hydroxycut is no more effective than a placebo at suppressing appetite.
The company advertises that the supplement is effective without any unwanted side effects.
But the fine print includes so many disclaimers that it is clear Hydroxycut should not be used by most of the adult population, the suit says.
Nixon said dozens of people in the midwest showed ill-effects of Hydroxycut. He did not identify them or describe their conditions.
He said he filed the suit quickly in order to get Hydroxycut off the shelves and away from high school and college athletes under pressure to perform by taking stimulants.
The suit is filed under the state Merchandising Practices Act, which outlaws fraud in advertising and sales. The suit asks that MuscleTech be barred from misrepresenting Hydroxycut and seeks restitution for any Missouri consumers who have been harmed.
Lawsuits in federal and state courts elsewhere are challenging other ephedra makers and their health claims.
The $17 billion a year dietary supplement industry is largely unregulated. Although the government has not acted against ephedra manufacturers, it recently sent warning letters to dozens of makers challenging them to remove unproven claims or substantiate the claims of athletic improvement. The FDA and the Federal Trade Commission are assessing whether to do anything else.
In its March 26 issue, the editors of the Journal of the American Medical Association say there is enough evidence to restrict the use of ephedra and that legislation is needed to regulate dietary supplements.
At MuscleTech’s toll-free number, a salesman offered 140 capsules of Hydroxycut for $32. “That should last about three or four weeks,” he said.
Asked to connect a caller with someone in charge, he answered: “I couldn’t release any type of information at all.”