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Supplements guru sues over his own product

April 29, 2010 |  2:09 pm

The world of dietary supplements is unpredictable and sometimes, well, zany. But here's a story that should give pause to anyone lured by the extravagant claims of many supplements makers.

Gary Null, a nutrition and fitness guru, critic of conventional medicine and hawker of dietary supplements on his website, filed a suit Monday with the Supreme Court of New York County against one of his own herbal supplements -- or more specifically, a company that provided some of its nutrient ingredients. The suit alleges that after taking two daily doses of the product, Ultimate Power Meal, for a month, Null fell ill with "excruciating fatigue along with bodily pain" and bleeding "from within his feet."

A visit to his physician revealed extremely elevated levels of Vitamin D in Null's body, which led Null to investigate the contents of the Ultimate Power Meal. Null's complaint charges that the defendant in the civil case, Triarco Industries Inc., had erred in preparing the Vitamin D source for the product, making it 1,000 times more potent than the product's content label claimed. The suit seeks damages of $10 million.

As The New York Post, which broke the story, observes, "not exactly a ringing endorsement" of his own product.

Null consumed his power meals after his symptoms appeared, believing the product "would help him and relieve his condition."

"Fortunately, only one lot of Power Meal was defective and none of the product reached the retail market," says Null on his website's "store." But the New York Post, citing papers filed in the suit, reports that "six consumers were hospitalized with severe kidney damage" and that Null, while ill, "had dozens of his customers calling him, as well as threatening and condemning him."

It's not at all uncommon for the content of dietary supplements to contain doses wildly different than those indicated on their labels--and that's when nutritional contents are listed on labels, which is not always. (At least one commercial lab regularly issues reports documenting the mislabeled and unlabeled contents of dietary supplements.) 

New federal rules make the manufacturers of dietary supplements subject to inspections to ensure "good manufacturing procedures." Those rules aim to improve quality problems that have long plagued the supplements industry. But for the smallest manufacturers, those regulations are just now coming into force. Otherwise, the Food and Drug Administration's role in regulating dietary supplements is very limited: Dietary supplements are allowed onto the market without prior approval from the FDA. So, unless the agency has reports that indicate a product may be harmful, it can stay in broad circulation indefinitely.

So, buyer beware -- and apparently that goes for Gary Null, whose "Ultimate Power Meal," fortunately for him, didn't quite live up to its name.

As for Vitamin D toxicity -- this is controversial. Most of us do not get enough of this vitamin, which our bodies produce in response to sunlight as well as take in from dietary sources, and evidence is mounting that adequate Vitamin D levels are important for staying healthy. But the National Institutes of Health have said that 50 micrograms, or 2,000 international units, is the safe daily limit for anyone over a year old. The Vitamin D Council, headed by Dr. John J. Cannell, counters that adults can tolerate more than 10,000 IU daily safely.

--Melissa Healy

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