The manufacturer of Super PoliGrip announced last week that it is removing zinc from its denture cream formula, the latest and most dramatic response to criticism from consumer groups and an ever-growing list of lawsuits claiming health problems as a result of excessive zinc intake.

A press release by GlaxoSmithKline announced that the company is pulling three of its signature products Super PoliGrip Free, Super PoliGrip Comfort Seal Strips, and Super PoliGrip Powder while it works on a new zinc-free formula. The company maintained that PoliGrip is safe when used as directed, and that problems only arise when consumers apply more adhesive than directed [or] use it more than once per day. GSK says it is halting the manufacture, distribution, and advertising of the named products as a precautionary measure to minimize any potential risks to these consumers.

The company has faced growing concern over the danger of zinc poisoning. Last October, GSK announcedthat it was placing inserts in all denture packages, warning consumers that excessive zinc intake can lead to serious health effects.

That decision was prompted in part by a 2008 article in the medical journal Neurology, which profiled four people who used, on average, two tubes of denture cream per week and suffered varying levels of neurological damage as a result. GSK has stressed that a tube of denture cream should last a month or more, depending on its size.

Zinc is an essential element of a human diet, often grouped with other so-called good chemicals, but too much of it can cause anemia, pancreatic diseases, and decreased levels of HDL cholesterol. Additionally, excessive zinc intake can lead to neurological and nerve damage, which in turn can cause numbness, problems balancing or walking, and tingling or weakness in the extremities. In rare cases, users have ended up paralyzed.

An extreme case was Elizabeth Gilley, a 26-year-old woman profiled earlier this month in Time Magazine. Gilley has worn dentures and used denture cream on a daily basis since a genetic condition ate away at her teeth when she was a teenager. Gilley experienced numb extremities and heavy breathing, symptoms which got worse over a six-month period, and eventually caused her to collapse. She is now confined to a wheelchair, and is one of many American consumers who have filed suits against GSK.

Indeed, the company has been named in dozens of lawsuits over the past few years, as has Procter & Gamble, which manufactures rival denture cream Fixodent. Last June, a number of suits against the two companies were consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

The U.S. Drug Watchdog, a consumer advocacy group, has driven home the urgency of the situation, warning that zinc-laden denture cream could produce the worst case of zinc poisoning in U.S. history. The group pointed out that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't require denture cream companies to disclose the danger posed by zinc poisoning.

GSKs statement urged consumers who have used denture cream for several years in greater amounts than directed on the package or more than once per day to stop using the product and talk to their doctor. Consumers who are experiencing signs of zinc poisoning should help seek immediately, and can also call the National Poison Control at 800-222-1222.