When 22-year-old Michael Lee Sparling died from cardiac arrest, a dark secret of commercial sport and fitness supplements emerged. Often used to increase performance and stamina, these pills and powders can have tragic consequences. To compound the problem, the bottom line usually reigns supreme and corporate leaders choose profit over supplement safety. As healthy young athletes suddenly die from heart failure, a misunderstood and lightly regulated industry is called into question.
Fatal aftermath of GNC supplement
According to the New York Times article, "Is the Seller to Blame? Workout Supplement Challenged After Death of Soldier":
"MORE than half of American adults take some kind of supplement — a multivitamin, protein powder, a calcium pill. In 2011, Americans spent an estimated $30 billion on such products, according to Nutrition Business Journal, a market research firm. In fact, supplements have become something of a commodity, proliferating in supermarkets and sold in bulk at Costco."
Needless to say, these products are big business. GNC is one such example of a health food store gone wild. Established during the Great Depression, it's main product was yogurt. But when the company went public in 1980, it transformed into a mega supplement peddler with little oversight.
“GNC appears to look like a kind of pharmacy, but in reality it’s more of a flea market,” Dr. Cohen of Harvard University asserts. He believes the company does not take responsibility for vendor products. “If people viewed it as more of a flea market, they would understand that there are random people selling pills that don’t do much of anything, and occasionally might hurt.”
Sparling might still be alive today if he had approached the business and its products with a wary eye. He took the recommended dosage of a GNC supplement called Jack3d before a standard formation drill with his military unit at Fort Bliss, Texas. During the ten minute run, he went into cardiac arrest and died later in the day. Jack3d contains dimethylamylamine (DMAA), a powerful stimulant that has a similar effect as amphetamines. Another young soldier (aged 31) died a year before at the same base. Toxicology reports confirmed both had used DMAA.
Among the weightlifting and fitness crowd, the product has a reputation for increasing stamina. The GNC site claims Jack3d will deliver: "ultra-intense muscle-gorging strength, energy, power and endurance."
What the website and packaging fail to mention is that DMAA:
" . . . narrows blood vessels and arteries, which can elevate blood pressure, and may lead to cardiovascular problems such as shortness of breath, arrhythmias, tightening in the chest, and heart attack, as well as seizures and other neurological and psychological conditions. FDA has received 86 reports of adverse events involving products containing DMAA. These events include psychiatric disorders, heart problems, nervous system disorders, and death," as stated on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration site.
Company representatives explained via e-mail to the New York Times that "GNC is "simply a retailer" and, like all retailers, relies upon "representations of contractual warranties made by the vendor that the products are safe."' To date, GNC continues to sell Jack3d, even promoting it as a "hot" product.
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