Rock Center   |  April 12, 2013

Family blames Jack3d in soldier son’s death

Dr. Nancy Snyderman investigates the barely-regulated multi-billion dollar dietary supplement industry. One supplement, DMAA, has been deemed ‘illegal’ by the FDA and in advance of this Rock Center report, the agency issued an advisory warning about the supplement. DMAA is found in the popular Jack3d. The makers of Jack3d deny that their product is dangerous.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> food and drug administration issued a warning letter in advance of our next report. the fda wants fitness customers across the country to stop using popular dietary supplements containing an ingredient called dmaa the agency says the substance is illegal and brings with it the risk of heart attack or worse. the question, of course, why isn't the substance banned and why are stores still able to sell it. dr. nancy snyderman investigates.

>> doctor mike sparling was the eldest of four and dreamed of being a soldier. in january of 2011 , at the age of 21, he enlisted. his parents, michael and leann , say he loved it.

>> we were talking on the phone. he says, mama, this is my niche, this is it. this is what i want to do for the rest of my life.

>> after basic training , private sparling was assigned to fort bliss , tegxas. on his first day, he went on a 3 1/2 mile training run in comfortable 70-degree weather. nothing compared to the typical ten- mile run . later that morning, leann got a call from the commander with some alarming news.

>> he said, ma'am, is your son taking anything. he has collapsed and suffered a heart attack . i said, is he doing okay? he says, well, we are working on him. i said, please tell michael that mom is on her way. i'm going to get on the next flight out there. he said, ma'am, you don't understand what i'm saying. your son is in cardiac arrest. we're performing cpr on him right now. i said, sir, are you telling me my boy is going to die? he says, you should really pray.

>> as the sparling 's prepared to fly to texas, leann called her son's commanding officer back. he said, ma'am, we've done everything we could to save him but at 11:17 this morning, he passed away .

>> the sparlings were stunned. they could not understand how their healthy, young son died so suddenly. later, they learned tests had revealed a substance in his blood, a dietary supplement . the sparlings say army doctors told him it may have played a role in michael 's death.

>> did they secure his room?

>> they locked it down immediately and went in and that's when they collected the jack 3-d.

>> jack 3-d or jacked as it is called is mark kelts as a dietary supplement that boost energy and endurance. it is sold in stores across the country, including the giant retailer, gnc . walk into any gym and you are bound to find exercise fanatics like keith stuart that says they cannot live without it.

>> your body will start to tingle. your skin will start to tingle. you can feel it. you feel this rush of energy in your body. you just have to move.

>> the sparlings began researching jack and learned it contains a stimulant called dmaa. they found reports of potential serious side effects in the medical literatur.

>> this is what high school kids can buy off the shelves.

>> we have hundreds and thousands of new ingredients being introduced into supplements without any safety data or information being provided.

>> dr. peter cohen is a professor at harvard medical school who studies supplement safety. cohen and other health officials say dmaa is just latest example of the dangers that lurk in a barely regulated multibillion dollar dietary supplement market.

>> thanks to a law passed in 1994 , supplements unlike prescription drugs do not need fda approval to get to market. supplements an the stores that sell them are everywhere. in 1994 , there were 4,000 products on the market. what's the status now?

>> at least 80,000 new products.

>> one thing we want to impart. they see a pill and they think that fda has signed off on the safety of the pill and in the diet supplement world, that's not the case.

>> daniel fabricant is the director of the fda division of diet supplementary programs. if you want to understand the limits of the government's power, listen to what he told us about dmaa.

>> it is an illegal ingredient, an inlegal dietary supplement .

>> you are telling me it is illegal. you are telling me it is still on the market.

>> we have sent warning letters to firms and taken steps to get it out of the hands of consumers. we are very concerned and urge consumers to be concerned as well.

>> when an official from the fda tells me there is an illegal product on the market and yet there is no jurisdiction to remove it, i don't get that.

>> banning it would be, you know, difficult.

>> difficult because the fda has limited legal authority over supplements. the fda has received dozens of reports of serious side effects believed to be linked to dmaa even several deaths.

>> it could increase the risk of death? could it lead to a young, healthy man dying?

>> absolutely.

>> yet, the fda cannot require jacked or any supplement to include side effects on the label.

>> even known side effects . if a supplement is proven to cause a rash or indigestion or headaches, there is absolutely no requirement that that's placed on the label.

>> that's right.

>> it isn't.

>> and, says cohen, the dirty secret behind dmaa is that it is actual will i a drug that manufacturers are passing offs a plant product.

>> so where does it come from?

>> dmaa is produced in a factory.

>> in april of 2012 , the fda did send warning letters question willing dnaa's safety and challenging that it qualifies as a dietary supplement . all of them pulled their products except for usp labs, the makers of jacked.

>> they are thumbing their nose at you?

>> it is an open case. i am limited in what we can see.

>> what do you want consumers to know?

>> don't take the product. we urge them not to.

>> some have stopped selling it but it is still on the shelves of gnc .

>> it is shocking they still support usp labs.

>> they declined our request for an on-camera interview. in a statement, they say they are unaware of a single corroborated adverse event when dmaa is used as directed. they say there are eight peer reviewed studies detailing the safety and three papers that say dmaa can be extracted from geranium. gnc told us it has no reason to believe that dmaa is unsafe. it relies on manufacturers to warrant that the products are fully compliant with all applicable lawings and safe for human consumption. gnc also says it does not sell substances banned or recalled by the fda . while dmaa has not been officially band. the u.s. military prohibited selling it on bases when five months after michael sparling collapsed, a second soldier died after use can dmaa. nine countries, including canada and the uk have banned it.

>> canada has banned it. the u.s. military has taken the substance out of all of its shops but you can still get it at the local store.

>> it's absurd.

>> the sparlings say they are waiting for the fda to demand dmaa. they are suing usp labs and gnc for causing their son's death. for the past two years, leann , with michael 's dog tags around her neck, has been dropping into supplement stores to find out if they are still selling jacked. she told us about a conversation she had with a clerk a few months after michael 's death.

>> i said, i'm interested in a product called jacked 3-d. he goes, oh, yes. this is our top seller.

>> i said, have you heard of any adverse side ekt ifs? he goes, no, it is 100% natural. it is totally safe. he goes, are you buying it for your son?

>> i said, no. i said, do you see the dog tags i am wearing? i said they were my sons. he said, what happened?

>> i said, he died after taking this product.

>> dr. nancy snyderman reporting. up