Several popular dietary supplements on the market today contain amphetamine-like chemical stimulants that may be dangerous for human consumption. That's the conclusion of a new study that analyzed the supplements and is calling out the Food and Drug Administration for its failure to do more to pull these products off of store shelves.

The study, recently published in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis, was led by Dr. Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. According to Cohen, it is not unusual for dietary supplement manufacturers to juice up their weight-loss and exercise products with amphetamine-like chemicals, and then hide them on their labels using obscure plants to give the impression they are in some way "natural." That's what his study found was the case with a number of dietary supplements available to consumers. And Cohen says that the FDA knows about the presence of these stimulants in certain dietary supplements, but has not made any move to recall the products or warn consumers about the dangers of using them.

The FDA did begin an investigation into dietary supplements as early as 2013, when agency researchers noticed that a number of these products suddenly contained a little-known plant called acacia rigidula, a shrub native to Mexico and southern Texas. The agency tested 21 popular supplements that listed acacia rigidula on their labels and found nine of them tested positive for BMPEA, a chemical stimulant that is nearly identical to amphetamine. Agency officials reported their findings last year in The Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis. They did not, however, name the specific products, nor did they make any further move to remove the products from store shelves.

Cohen tried to find out which supplements the FDA tested and which ones contained BMPEA, but he was unsuccessful. So he conducted his own tests. Cohen and his research team found the stimulant in 11 of 21 products tested. Here's the list of dietary supplements that, according to Cohen's study, contained BMPEA:

  • JetFuel Superburn
  • JetFuel T-300
  • MX-LS7
  • Aro Black Series Burn
  • Black Widow
  • Dexaprine XR
  • Fastin-XR
  • Lipodrene Hardcore
  • Lipodrene Xtreme
  • Stimerex-ES
  • Yellow Scorpion
Last year, the Canadian government issued a public health alert about BMPEA to consumers after recalling JetFuel Superburn when it was found to contain the stimulant: “Amphetamine stimulants can increase blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature; lead to serious cardiovascular complications (including stroke) at high doses; suppress sleep and appetite, and be addictive.”

The bigger problem, Cohen says is that the FDA's regulators' hands are tied when it comes to regulating dietary supplements in general as these products are regulated like foods — not like drugs — under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. This means that, unlike with medications, FDA regulators have to prove that a dietary supplement is unsafe before they can recall it. 

But there is a loophole with BMPEA. Under federal law, dietary supplements can contain only ingredients that are part of the food supply or that were already in use before 1994. Though it was first synthesized in the 1930s, BMPEA has never been sold as a food or supplement, and therefore its presence in certain products gives the FDA the authority to act. 

This isn't the first time Cohen has called out the FDA for failing to act — or act quickly enough — when it comes to regulating the billion dollar dietary supplement industry. Last year, Cohen conducted a study that found that even after they had been recalled, many dietary supplements that contained banned ingredients were still available for sale, and the FDA was not acting to ensure their removal from the marketplace.

"The FDA is simply not getting the job done," Cohen said at the time.

It's likely he still feels the same today. 
 

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