It's a jungle out there. You probably already know that there are some bad players in the food supplement industry. There are companies that make products that don't work, products that haven't been tested for safety and efficacy, products that are contaminated, and even products that are dangerous. There are some companies that even make products that contain dangerous drugs - drugs that can even kill you.
A class I recall is for cases in which there is a reasonable probability that use of or exposure to a product will cause serious adverse health consequences or death. Now here's the scary part: 98% of those recalls were for dietary supplements. The worst offenders were sexual enhancement products (40%), bodybuilding products (31%) and weight loss products (27%). And these weren't all foreign-made products. 74% were manufactured in the United States.
A perfect example of this scandalous behavior is the DMAA saga. You may recall that I first brought this to your attention in my February 21, 2012 health tip "What Are They Thinking?" Let me give you a very brief overview of that report, followed by the latest developments.
DMAA is short for dimethylamylamine. It is a stimulant that is chemically very similar to ephedrine. The less reputable supplement manufacturers often add stimulants to their weight loss and bodybuilding products.
Stimulants do raise metabolic rate so they help with weight loss. They have no effect on athletic performance, but the athletes often feel like they have more energy - so they are popular in bodybuilding products. The problem is that many stimulants are dangerous. They can increase heart rate, cause arrhythmia, and they can kill people.
Because supplements with ephedrine killed a bunch of people, the FDA forced supplement manufacturers to remove it from their products a number of years ago. You might have thought that the manufacturers would decide that adding stimulants to their products wasn't a good idea. But no, they just substituted DMAA for ephedrine. And guess what? The inevitable happened again. Two US soldiers died following DMAA usage.
But the story really gets scandalous from here. The military ordered the removal of all DMAA containing products from U.S. Army and Air Force exchanges, but the FDA did not act. So what happened? Just about what you'd expect. Companies like GNC pulled their DMAA containing products from military bases, but continued to sell them from all their other stores.
Several months later the FDA finally acted. It sent a warning letter to all US manufacturers of DMAA containing products asking them to stop using DMAA as an ingredient in their supplements. All of the companies agreed to stop using it except one - USPLabs. USPLabs claimed that DMAA could be found in geranium, which is an approved herbal ingredient, so they continued to use it. And GNC continued to sell their DMAA containing products in all its nonmilitary stores.
Finally, on April 11, 2013 the FDA issued a strongly worded warning about DMAA. The FDA warning said that there were 86 reports of illnesses and deaths associated with supplements containing DMAA, and the preponderance of scientific evidence showed that DMAA was not a natural constituent of geranium. The FDA said that they would take all possible means to get DMAA containing products off the market. A cynic might point out that the FDA did not act until the night before a high profile exposé on DMAA was scheduled to appear on NBC.
Finally, USPLabs threw in the towel and said that they would reformulate their DMAA containing products. A cynic might suspect that they will just substitute yet another stimulant for DMAA. And what about GNC? They said "It [DMAA] will be positioned out of stores, probably over the next five or six months as we sell existing inventory". You don't need a cynic to interpret that statement.
So what's the bottom line for you? It is a jungle out there. Don't fall for the hype and fancy claims. Do your homework, and stick with a company you can trust.
To Your Health!
Dr. Stephen G Chaney
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.