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Metabolife 356 diet medicine includes ephedra (Ma Huang) which causes strokes, unexpected death, heart attacks, and seizures.
The Justice Department is looking into whether San Diego-based Metabolife International lied to federal regulators about the safety of their ephedra-based weight control pills. When the Justice Department publicized its probe of Metabolife, the company arranged to turn over almost 14,000 serious health complaints it has received from consumers of Metabolife 356. The company has denied making false statements.

Metabolife is the top producer of ephedra appetite suppressants that have been connected to serious health problems and dozens of fatalities in recent years. As a dietary supplement, ephedra -- otherwise known as the Chinese herb Ma Huang -- is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

However, because of ephedra's potentially deadly side effects, the FDA and several congressmen are now calling for strict limits on suggested dosages and proposing new consumer labeling requirements to limit ephedra's deadly risk factors.

Several major sports organizations have already banned the substance, including the National Football League and the International Olympic Committee.

With approximately 20% of America's children and two-thirds of all adults now considered overweight (with half of those adults classified as medically obese) the nation's ephedra makers have enjoyed booming sales, ranging from $500 million in 1995 to about $3 billion by the end of the decade. Privately held Metabolife said in 1999 that its revenue from the drug exceeded $1 billion.