New study uncovers mystery ingredient in a dozen products
In a new report published in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis, researchers found that 12 of the 14 supplements they tested contained a synthetic stimulant called 1,3-dimethylbutylamine, or DMBA.
The supplements were marketed for sports nutrition, often as pre-workout formulas, or for weight loss or brain enhancement.
Here’s why the discovery is cause for concern: DMBA is a close cousin of 1,3-dimethylamylamine (DMAA), a potentially dangerous amphetamine-like stimulant recently banned from some supplements last year, says Pieter Cohen, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard University and an internal medicine doctor at the Cambridge Health Alliance.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pulled those products from the market because DMAA may be linked to heart attacks, hemorrhagic strokes, and even sudden death, says Dr. Cohen.
Is DMBA as dangerous as its banned relative? Unfortunately, it’s anyone’s guess. “The truth of the matter is we have absolutely no idea of the effect of this new drug in the human body because there’s not a single study of even 10 people who have taken this,” says Dr. Cohen. “So this is a total experiment on the public, on consumers, that we’re witnessing.”
He doesn’t recommend volunteering yourself. In the 1940s, some researchers studied DMBA consumption in cats and dogs and found that it has similar effects to DMAA, though it may take higher doses to pose the same risk, says Dr. Cohen.
“Sure enough, what we’re seeing in these supplements are dosages that are much higher than DMAA, so it looks like the manufacturers are placing it in significant quantities in the supplements to have those strong effects on the body,” Dr. Cohen explains. If you feel a little buzzed or more awake, then you might think the product is pumping you up for a workout, he says. However, it may not be a safe high.
So how did Dr. Cohen and his team figure out that a new stimulant was making its way onto store shelves? Shortly after DMAA was pulled from the market, he and his colleagues at NSF International and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment noticed a new ingredient showing up in supplements—AMP Citrate.
When they analyzed products with AMP Citrate, they found that supplements from nine companies contained DMBA. “That is extremely concerning, because that suggests that even in the early periods of introduction of a new ingredient, it can get diffused widely in the supplement industry and be very hard for a consumer to have any idea where they could go to avoid these kinds of things,” says Dr. Cohen. It can happen because the FDA has no mechanism in place to detect potentially dangerous ingredients in supplements, he says.
To reduce your risk of accidentally ingesting a stimulant, avoid supplements with AMP Citrate or any of its synonyms: 4-amino-2-methylpentane citrate, 1,3-dimethylbutylamine citrate, 4-amino-2-pentanamine, Pentergy, or 4-AMP, he suggests. “Even if you don’t see it on the label, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it in there,” Dr. Cohen warns.
A cup of coffee is a safer way to perk up before a gym session, says Dr. Cohen. Or, just skip the energy boost altogether. As long as you sleep properly and eat enough, you shouldn’t need an energy-increasing supplement to perform well at the gym, says Kamal Patel, M.P.H., M.B.A., director at Examine.com, an independent encyclopedia on supplementation and nutrition.
Proper sleep, nutrition, and a healthy dose of gym time are also the safest bets for staying slim. “There are likely many other substances in weight-loss supplements that help produce some effect but aren’t listed; aren’t listed clearly enough; aren’t known by the FDA; or aren’t researched in humans,” says Patel.