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If Steve Belcher hadn’t used ephedra, an ingredient in Metabolife and many other weight loss products, he might be a pitching star in the major leagues today. Certainly, Belcher wouldn’t have died if he hadn’t tried to lose weight by using dangerous diet pills.

Ephedra is a powerful stimulant contained in Metabolife, and Metabolife is an example of everything that’s dangerous and deadly with the entire weight loss business, leaving a wake of permanent personal injuries and wrongful deaths.Metabolife was once hugely profitable. It is still tremendously dangerous, and our firm has represented dozens of people who have suffered heart attacks and strokes as a result of taking it.

Steve Belcher was a 23-year old pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles who was trying to get himself into better shape as spring training began in 2003. He was carrying some extra pounds, and diet pills were a foolish part of his conditioning program. During the workout that turned out to be his last, his body temperature soared, and he collapsed. Later he died, and an autopsy found ephedra, or ephedrine, in his system.

The world of nutritional supplements and weight loss scams is hugely profitable. It has an amazing rate of failure, and the government does little to stop it from causing thousands of personal injuries every year. While the FDA has the power to ban a drug before it goes to market if testing shows that the drug is likely to be harmful, the agency lacks that sort of authority over nutritional supplements.

The FDA can act on supplements only after they cause personal injuries that are reported as adverse events. One claim that makers of supplements always make is that their products are “all natural.” That phrase is meaningless.

Mother Nature makes many poisons, and many herbal products have properties that are similar to prescription drugs. For example, the FDA recently issued an alert for Zencore Plus, a male enhancement supplement that may cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure.

A much larger warning from the FDA identified 69 different weight loss pills that contain controlled medications and other dangerous and unapproved ingredients. These “all natural” products actually contain drugs that should be available only with a prescription, and many of the drugs are not listed on the labels.

Makers of dietary supplements operate without any controls because of the Dietary Supplement

Health and Education Act (DSHEA). Passed in 1994, this federal statute stripped the FDA of its power to regulate supplements. The DSHEA gave the scam artists of the world a chance to call anything a nutritional or dietary supplement and to make ridiculous claims about melting away those unwanted pounds and creating vibrant energy and fantastic health.

One company that grossly exploited the regulatory void created by Congress was Metabolife. The company’s founder was Michael Ellis, who had been convicted of manufacturing and selling methamphetamine in 1990 – a felony. Not to be stopped Mr. Ellis jumped into the “natural” drug business by combining ephedra and a long list of other ingredients to make Metabolife, a form of “natural” speed, which can have effects similar to those of amphetamines.

In 2004, the FDA issued a ban on ephedra, but a subsequent court ruling overturned that ban, and today it’s easy to buy supplements that contain ephedra, even though professional sports leagues such as the NFL have banned the substance because it is a killer.

Metabolife is worthless and a huge personal injury risk, but it’s just one of the many harmful supplements that are available in the weight loss industry, where Americans now spend more than $58 billion every year and lose almost no weight.

Even the parts of the weight loss business that are safe fail to deliver anything close to what they promise. Researchers have found that 95% of dieters fail to achieve lasting weight loss.

Any other industry that fails 95% of the time would quickly go out of business, but the diet industry likes its failure rate. It provides just enough examples of people who have succeeded, and they become the inspiration for this week’s fad diet or for the next miracle pill from the unexplored jungles of Sumatra.

The government’s failure to regulate “natural” supplements allows Metabolife and others to cause severe personal injuries and wrongful deaths. Until the government accepts responsibility for regulating these products, you cannot take them with any assurance of safety.

If a dietary supplement has caused personal injury to you or to someone you know, contact me to learn if a personal injury lawyer can help you. A lawsuit can never unring the injury bell once it is rung. It can only provide compensation to live a portion of the lifestyle that was lost because of a dangerous product.

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Richard Alexander