People pop pills for almost everything these days: weight loss, weight gain, to build muscles or energy. It's roughly a $28 billion a year industry, but supplements aren't regulated. Doctors warn some are fine, others cause damage and can be deadly.
Austin Ashworth grew up playing football. Soccer was his sport of choice in college. Like many of us a few years out of school, Ashworth wanted to get back into college shape. His motivation? His wedding.
"I was getting into Cross Fit and just trying to find the best route to get the look I was going for. I found a product called Oxy Elite Pro, and it worked," Ashworth said.
Little did he know the supplement would turn him toxic within a month.
"I got sick, threw up. I was real pale, cold and almost turned white. From that day forward, it just snowballed from there. I got worse and worse," Ashworth said.
Ashworth started down a path of repeated hospital visits and extended stays. Throughout his journey, "my eyes were completely mustard yellow and I looked like I had a terrible spray tan," Ashworth said.
Doctors biopsied his liver and determined Ashworth suffered from drug-induced acute hepatitis.
"I always thought of a really old person that had drank their entire life, dying. And here I was at 27, dying," Ashworth said.
Ashworth spent 35 days in the hospital in less than two months. He couldn't keep weight on, losing about a pound a day. In the middle was his wedding day.
"It was horrible. It's supposed to be the best day of your life. But I really just tried to keep it together the whole time," Ashworth said.
To mask his condition, some of Austin and Carrie's wedding photos were photo shopped, many taken in black and white. Five days later he had another stint in the hospital.
"I was wondering, did I get married to not make it? Am I going to have to have a liver transplant?" Ashworth said.
The CDC estimates more than half the U.S. population takes a supplement even though they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Emory Dr. Ram Subramanian said the makers don't have to prove how they work or ensure the safety of the supplement.
"Because of the lack of quality control, it sets the stage for potentially harmful ramifications," Subramanian said.
Ramifications that can result in painful, costly treatments and even death. And he said there's a spike of liver damage in an unlikely population, healthy people in their 20s and 30s taking weight loss and muscle building supplements.
Subramanian treated Ashworth's liver damage with what's called MARS treatment. It's so new, Emory is one of only five hospitals in the country to use it.
"We use a combination of these two machines to remove toxins associated with liver and kidney function," Subramanian said.
Since his October treatment, life is looking up for Ashworth, but the threat of possible liver failure lives in the back of his mind.
"You go to any health store and you can buy this product and it's just simply to do good. And you would never imagine that you potentially buy something in a store that could almost kill you in a matter of months," Ashworth said.
Oxy Elite Pro, which Ashworth took, has been recalled and is off store shelves. But doctors worry there are more still on the market that could cause harm.
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