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Body-building rival accuses Charlotte-area firm of selling unsafe performance enhancers

A Fort Mill company has been accused in a federal lawsuit of falsely marketing dangerous health supplements to improve sports performance.
A Fort Mill company has been accused in a federal lawsuit of falsely marketing dangerous health supplements to improve sports performance. Bradenton Herald

A dispute between rivals in the lucrative and highly competitive nutritional-supplement industry has given rise to allegations that a Fort Mill company is falsely marketing dangerous performance-enhancing drugs that have been banned by national and international sports agencies.

In a federal lawsuit, Total Fitness Warehouse has been accused by an Arizona company of claiming a larger share of the multibillion-dollar health-supplement market by engaging in unfair trade practices.

A Total Fitness spokesman said the company had no comment Thursday.

Nutritional Distribution LLC of Phoenix, which describes itself as a “cutting-edge sports supplement manufacturer and marketer,” says it has been damaged by the online marketing and sales of its Fort Mill rival.

The lawsuit claims that Total Fitness has targeted body builders and competitive athletes, advertising drugs as safe that actually pose serious risks to the liver, heart and other organs.

In particular, the lawsuit singles out the supplement “SUP3R-1 1-Andro DHEA,” which the Arizona company alleges contains a primary ingredient that metabolizes into the “dangerous and illegal” anabolic steroid 1-Testosterone.

The agent 1-DHEA helps deliver the testosterone to the body. But the lawsuit claims that because large amounts are often needed, the substance carries even more potential danger to consumers than the steroid.

Total Fitness, though, “markets the 1-DHEA product to body builders, gym users, fitness enthusiasts and athletes as containing clinically tested and safe performance enhancers, promising these consumers numerous purported physical benefits” without mentioning the risks, the suit claims.

According to the complaint, Total Fitness also sells synthetic drugs known as SARMs (Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators) that have similar effects – and risks – as steroids but are falsely advertised as a “dietary supplement.”

The stakes in the case are potentially huge. Almost 70 percent of Americans take health or dietary supplements. In an article cited in the complaint, Forbes estimates the supplement market will double in size, to $60 billion annually, within 10 years.

In its complaint, Nutritional Distribution claims to have developed a series of products to build body mass and improve athletic performance and recovery that are also safe. Yet it claims that it has lost market share to Total Fitness’ “continuing false, misleading, illegal and deceptive practices.”

The Phoenix company has called on the courts to stop Total Fitness from producing and marketing the targeted products and to award compensatory and punitive damages at a jury trial. It also wants all or part of its rival’s profits tied to the disputed acts and its “ill-gotten gains.”

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS

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