Reservist Alleges Tainted Diet Pill Caused Insomnia Rage, Five Days in Mental Ward

PHOTO: Sainah Theodore, 26, alleges she ended up in a mental health ward after taking tainted diet pills.
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Sainah Theodore, serving in the Army Reserves and with dreams of being an officer, says she turned to an herbal diet supplement that she had used before with success to help her lose weight and be fit for a combat job.

But in a lawsuit, she alleges the Natural Lipo-X pills she bought at a health food store in New York City in December 2012 contained illegal chemicals not listed on its label, which prevented her from sleeping for six days. As a result, she says she went into a psychological rage that cost her not only her career aspirations but tens of thousands of dollars of property damage and lost wages.

"Aside from paranoid, aggressive, nasty text messages she sent to her mother all day, she was picking fights with strangers in a movie theater," said her lawyer, Brian C. Pascale. "She said she heard voices and ... was driving aggressively and reacting erratically."

After a week of rage-driven episodes that came to a head on Dec. 19 with the physical destruction of her home, Theodore was committed involuntarily to a hospital mental ward for five days, according to a lawsuit filed in the state Supreme Court of Kings County on Jan. 6.

Theodore, 26, is suing the Natural Health Food Center in Brooklyn and its owner, Adalgsa Garcia. Theodore's lawyers say they are trying to find the manufacturers of Natural Lipo-X to hold them accountable.

The product is no longer available on the store's website, but it is described elsewhere online as a "a lipotropic formula designed to amplify your fat burning efforts by increasing fat metabolism and helping to control hunger."

The lawsuit alleges Garcia, who uses the title "Dr." before her name, is not a medical doctor.

"She passes herself off as a doctor, which makes people trust her," said Marc. S. Ullman, a lawyer who specializes in food and drug litigation and is helping with Theodore's case.

Garcia's website states she is a "certified natural health professional" with a doctoral degree in neuropathy. It also says she obtained a degree in "general medicine and family medicine" at Nordestana University in the Dominican Republic.

But, said Pascale, "I found no doctors registered under her name with the New York State Department of Health."

Theodore's lawyers said they tested Theodore's remaining diet pills, and a lab report from Oregon's Flora Research Laboratories dated April 4, 2013, obtained by ABCNews.com shows they contained two chemical additives that are not approved by the FDA for over-the-counter dietary supplements and are not listed in the bottle's label of ingredients: sibutramine and phenolphthalein.

The FDA has issued numerous recalls when products are found to contain sibutramine and phenolphthalein. Its web page, "Questions and Answers about FDA's Initiative Against Contaminated Weight Loss Products" lists 72 tainted dietary supplement products that contain undeclared active ingredients, including eight that contain both sibutramine and phenolphthalein.

Sibutramine, a stimulant, was voluntarily removed from the market by the manufacturer in 2010 after the FDA asked for its withdrawal because of associated heart attack and stroke risks.

Phenolphthalein was an ingredient in some over-the-counter laxative products until 1999 when the FDA reclassified the drug as "not generally recognized as safe and effective" after studies showed it was potentially carcinogenic and can damage or cause mutations to DNA.

Natural Lipo-X was not named on a listed of diet supplements that the FDA as reported as being "tainted."

"Consumers may unknowingly take products laced with varying quantities of approved prescription drug ingredients, controlled substances, and untested and unstudied pharmaceutically active ingredients," says the FDA on its website, Tainted Weight Loss Products. "These deceptive products can harm you! Hidden ingredients are increasingly becoming a problem in products promoted for weight loss."

Before it was removed from the market, sibutramine carried a label warning of possible side effects: "lack of sleep, agitation and aggressive behavior," said Ullman. "Patients were warned that if you can't sleep for an extended period of time, to stop immediately."

Theodore is seeking an undetermined amount of damages, but Pascale said she racked up $21,000 in property losses, a $1,400 ambulance bill and $14,000 in lost wages from the military and potential bonuses.

In addition to serving in the Reserves, Theodore had a job in hospital admissions and was going to school full-time to study sociology.

ABCNews.com called the Natural Health Food Center and was told Adalgsa Garcia was "unavailable." She has not yet filed her response with the court.

"We have no comment," said a man who identified himself as Kennedy Angeliz. "Get in contact with the other party."

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