Over the years, a Woodstock company's fruit-flavored vitamin supplement gained a loyal following. Customers swore it made them healthier and their testimonials persuaded friends and family to take it, too.
They never imagined it would be the cause of bizarre and frightening symptoms that stumped their doctors.
At least 197 people in a dozen states - 53 of them in Georgia - were sickened earlier this year after taking the liquid supplement Total Body Formula. Their hair fell out in clumps, their fingernails fell off. They suffered nausea, vomiting and fatigue. Some had disabling joint pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health officials.
Doctors treating 21-year-old Felicia Blasingame of Acworth this spring first thought she had the flu, then tested her for everything from parasites to lupus to rheumatoid arthritis, trying to figure out what was causing her nausea, seizures, knee pain and hair loss, she said.
Edgar Gurley, 78, of Marietta said he went from being active and healthy to suddenly in January battling a cascading array of symptoms, including diarrhea, fatigue and confusion. Gurley said doctors struggled to explain why his blood chemistry and thyroid levels were out of whack, his kidneys were failing and his hair was falling out.
As their symptoms worsened, Blasingame and Gurley said they continued to take their daily 1-ounce dose of Total Body Formula, thinking it was critical to their health.
Yet several batches of Total Body Formula and Total Body Mega Formula contained hazardous amounts of the mineral selenium - up to 40,800 micrograms per serving, 200 times the amount listed on the product's label, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA is still investigating how this happened, and state health officials are still tallying the human toll.
Because of several pending lawsuits, lawyers for three companies involved in the manufacture and sale of Total Body products declined to discuss what happened.