Two Utah women are suing the Japanese manufacturers of an over-the-counter dietary supplement, claiming the supplement created a physical condition in the women similar to rheumatoid arthritis.

The suits join hundreds of other suits filed by U.S. victims against Showa Denko, the manufacturer of L-tryptophan.L-tryptophan was a popular amino acid taken in pill and capsule form in the late 1980s for insomnia, depression, premenstrual syndrome and weight problems.

By the end of 1989, the nutritional supplement was blamed for 427 cases of a painful blood disorder and one death. Nine months later the death count associated with it had jumped to 27 while the number of ill eluded count.

The FDA recalled the supplement in March 1990.

The Utah suits are two of four being filed by the Salt Lake law firm of Wilcox, Dewsnup and King. The firm filed Wednesday's suits in 3rd District Court on behalf of Judy Sanders and Linda K. Bagley.

Sanders, a former Salt Lake schoolteacher, bought L-tryptophan at Skaggs Alpha Beta and Fred Meyer repeatedly between December 1988 and November 1989, the suit says.

By the summer of 1989, Sanders had developed symptoms of the blood disease eosinophilia myalgia syndrome. The symptoms include seizures, constant pain, damage to nerve and skin, weakness and limited range of motion.

Bagley bought L-tryptophan at Albertson's between the summer of 1988 and November 1989. She, too, developed symptoms of the blood disease.

Both women are so ill they can no longer work, said Brent Wilcox, attorney for one of the women. "Nobody knows if they will work again," he said. "Nobody knows where this disease is going. It's a condition that is unique to this product. I think only time will tell."

Bagley's medical costs exceed $20,000. Sanders' medical bills exceed $120,000.

The women have sued the manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers of the drug, claiming negligence, misrepresentation, breach of warranty and reckless and wanton misconduct. Skaggs Alpha Beta, Fred Meyer and Albertson's are named defendants in the suit.

Hundreds of similar lawsuits have already been filed against the manufacturer of L-tryptophan, Wilcox said. All suits filed in federal court have been consolidated in South Carolina for purposes of pretrial investigation, he said. He and other lawyers representing the Utah women have not decided if they will participate in the combined pretrial research, he said.