BOCA RATON, Fla. (CN) - A Florida woman says a nutritional supplement contaminated with toxic plant materials nearly killed her. She claims that after she took New Sun's STR Concentrate for almost a year, her liver was so badly damaged she needed an emergency transplant. Alice Sunshine says her decline into life-threatening illness began with a routine trip to a vitamin store.
Sunshine had been suffering from anxiety and sought an herbal remedy with few side effects.
She says employees of the Health Mall in Boca Raton suggested New Sun's STR Concentrate, an all-natural supplement made from chamomile, skullcap, and ladyslipper herbs.
Sunshine says she followed the instructions and took 8 to 10 pills a day - consuming more than 3,000 of them within a year.
But the more pills she took, the more her health deteriorated: she says she became jaundiced, suffered abdominal pain and constant nausea.
Green-skinned, she dragged herself to the University of Miami hospital, where doctors said her liver was failing and that without an emergency transplant, she would die within weeks.
The doctors found a liver for her, and Sunshine survived, though she is still in constant danger of organ rejection.
Sunshine sued the Health Mall and New Sun in Palm Beach County Court. Her attorneys say that a decade-old process of deregulating the nutritional supplement industry has allowed companies like New Sun to sell substances that haven't undergone adequate safety evaluations.
Like almost all nutritional supplements, STR Concentrate has never been tested for its safety by the FDA. The ingredients are supposedly harmless, but without any source regulation for commercially distributed herbal concoctions, what you see is not always what you get, Sunshine's attorneys say.
"The quality of prepackaged herbal products may be a problem," Dutch pharmacologist Peter De Smet wrote in "Towards Safer Herbal Medicine."
"They are exempt from governmental approval processes so that their quality may remain essentially uncontrolled," De Smet wrote.
Skullcap, an herbal ingredient in STR Concentrate, is often thought to be harmless. But De Smet said it's frequently contaminated with European Teucrium plant materials, which contain hepatotoxins that destroy the liver.
And in vitro studies show that skullcap can impede liver cell growth, suggesting a dangerous synergy between the herb and whatever toxic adulterants may come with it.
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