Americans spend about $2 billion each year on weight-loss supplements, and at least 20 percent of women in this country have tried one. But there’s very little anyone’s doing to ensure they’re safe. REDBOOK investigates.
Samone Senevoravong first heard about OxyELITE Pro during the summer of 2013. She was 33 at the time, a busy single mother of two from Cleveland, trying to stay in shape and drop a few pounds. One day in June, Samone told her running buddy she was too tired to work out. Her friend gave her OxyELITE Pro, a weight-loss supplement she said would give Samone the energy she needed to push through it. “I felt like I had downed about three cups of coffee,” she recalls. “And I thought, This is great.“
When she went to buy some at a major health store, the salesperson mentioned that one version of the product, which contained a stimulant called DMAA, had been recalled after the ingredient was believed to be linked to the deaths of four soldiers who collapsed during training. Samone wasn’t worried; she assumed there was more to the story (and in fact, a Pentagon investigation couldn’t find direct evidence that DMAA was responsible for those deaths). Plus, the new formula was different, the sales person told her. “We agreed that the soldiers had probably misused it,” Samone says. As long as she followed the package directions, she told herself, she would be fine.
With that purchase, Samone joined the roughly one in five women in the U.S. who have tried a weight-loss supplement, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. But the illness that soon plagued Samone and other consumers reveals a troubling truth: This industry, which taps in to our weight-loss aspirations and includes OxyELITE Pro and hundreds of other supplements, is extremely difficult to regulate. The lack of well-enforced rules can put well-intentioned women at risk.