Searcy Law

Herbal Supplements

When toxic contaminated herbal supplements cause organ failure or death, Searcy Denney attorneys draw on unique experience

In our health-conscious nation, what could be healthier than turning to so-called health foods? What could be more natural than consuming so-called natural herbs to boost your energy, to relax, to obtain restful sleep, to counter the effects of menopause, or to lose weight?

The real question is, what could be more dangerous?

As thousands of Americans have learned the hard way, many products touted as “natural” and “pure” are, instead, pure poison... triggering organ failures that require organ transplants, or leaving families devastated by the sudden death of previously-vigorous loved ones.

To the attorneys at Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, these are all too familiar stories, because we are one of the few law firms in the country to successfully represent innocent victims of dangerous herbal supplements. In our pursuit of justice for our clients, we have learned what happens when big corporations in the herbal supplement industry put their profits before your health or safety.

Searcy Denney attorney David K. Kelley pioneered litigation on behalf of 27 victims of L-tryptophan, popular in the early 1980s because of its alleged powers to overcome pain, insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and obesity. Of the more than 1500 consumers who became seriously ill from L-tryptophan, 27 died of an autoimmune disorder that can cause respiratory or cardiac failure. L-tryptophan is a natural amino acid, but the products these victims bought were anything but natural. They were genetically engineered by a Japanese manufacturer, and potentially-lethal contaminants had been introduced during the process.

After protracted negotiation, Kelley was able to negotiate substantial recoveries for his clients. In 1989, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a nationwide recall. However, to this day they will not concede that the issues of toxicity and contamination were solely that of a particular manufacturer’s product. Although the FDA never formally banned L-tryptophan, several states did acknowledge the potential for contamination and toxicity.

In a very recent case, a beautiful health-conscious woman who looked half her age suddenly became a liver transplant candidate after taking a variety of herbal supplement products some of which included Kava and Spirulina Blue-Green Algae. Our client’s doctors were puzzled until they stumbled upon the herbal supplement connection. Kava, which purports to reduce stress and anxiety, has been proven to trigger liver failure if harvested improperly. Microcystin toxins, which are chemicals naturally produced and found in Spirulina Blue-Green Algae products, are often derived from the toxic waters of polluted lakes and streams. Side effects include liver failure and kidney failure. Again, attorney David Kelley secured a settlement from the supplement manufacturers.  These products can cause enormous harm and often the victim is the picture of health before taking them.

In yet another recent case, a teacher seeking more energy for the challenges of the classroom fell for the sales pitch of a major health food chain store. She ended up with acute liver failure after consuming a product off the shelf which boasts of “15 of the most exotic energy substances on earth,” Spirulina Blue-Green Algae, and Yerba Mate, a South American holly plant derivative with alleged curative powers. During the manufacturing process, contaminants had seeped into this already-risky mix, serving up a toxic cocktail. Once again, David Kelley was able to gain a recovery for his client, whose life, nonetheless, has been changed forever.

How do these preventable tragedies happen? One reason is, the $23 billion dietary/herbal supplement industry has been pulling the wool over our eyes for years with deceptive advertising badmouthing the pharmaceutical industry. “Medicines concocted synthetically by the big drug companies make you sicker,” the ads say. “Dietary supplements,” they claim, “put you firmly on the path to good health, the natural way.”

Here are the real facts:

Pharmaceuticals in the United States unlike “health foods” or “herbal supplements” are heavily regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Before new drugs can be put on the market, there must be research that demonstrates safety and efficacy. In 1994 the FDA deregulated the Herbal Dietary Supplement industry by passing the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), basically placing the responsibility of regulation, quality control and standardization squarely on the shoulders of the manufacturer to test for purity contamination as well as duty to warn. In other words, the so-called health foods don’t need to jump through the regulatory hoops as do their rivals in the pharmaceutical market. Exempt from testing and labeling requirements, unscrupulous manufacturers bottle unscientific witch’s brews without even telling us what is in them. And 21st century snake-oil salesmen fabricate whatever curative claims they think an uninformed public will believe.

Finally, after 13 years, the FDA acknowledged in a Consumer Advisory that the health risk was significant enough to establish Current Good Manufacturing Process (CGMP) regulations governing the dietary supplement industry. Rolled out over a three year period beginning June 1, 2008, these quality control rules will help ensure that herbal supplements and other health food products are manufactured free of contamination. But for many innocent victims, this is too little, too late. For example, in the first year they are in effect, the FDA rules make testing mandatory only for manufacturers with more than 500 employees. This means that for most companies, FDA scrutiny comes only after people have become seriously ill or died.

Fortunately, there is recourse through our justice system.

If you have been taking herbal supplements such as Kava or Spirulina Blue-Green Algae and have suffered undiagnosed, acute illness leading to organ transplant - or if a loved one has died under these circumstances - the law firm of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley is prepared to help you seek justice against the health food industry. Please fill out our Contact Form, or call us to learn more and arrange for a confidential free consultation.

Related Links:

Dietary Supplements

HerbMed ®


Consumer Lab

United States Department of Agriculture

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

United States National Library of Medicine (NLM)

National Council on Patient Information and Education

World Health Organization

National Advisory Council for Complementary and Alternative Medicine


National Standard

The American Herbal Products Association

Federal Trade Commission

News Articles

The American Pharmacists Association

Mayo Clinic

Hepatitis Foundation International

HCV & CAM: Dietary Supplements to Avoid