Untested Stimulant Still in Dietary Supplements
Editor's note: The FDA on April 22, 2015, sent warning letters to five companies which manufacture dietary supplements with BMPEA, asking them to stop distributing the products.
April 7, 2015 -- Researchers are warning consumers to avoid dietary supplements labeled as having the active ingredient Acacia rigidula.
The supplements claim to aid weight loss, boost energy, and sharpen attention. But about half of the 21 “natural” acacia products tested by researchers contained a lab-made stimulant called BMPEA, which stands for beta-methylphenylethylamine.
“Whenever you buy a weight loss product, the best you can hope for is that it doesn’t work. But why I would strongly caution against it is that the risk of getting a drug, and maybe even a drug that’s never been tested in humans, is real,” says Pieter Cohen, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard University.
The test results are published in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis.
Acacia rigidula is a shrub that grows in parts of Texas and Mexico. And BMPEA, which is related to the stimulant drug ephedrine, is the latest speed-like chemical to taint dietary supplements, researchers say.
In 2004, the FDA banned the stimulant Ephedra after it was linked to fatal strokes and heart attacks, heart palpitations, seizures, and psychiatric problems.
In 2012, the agency warned 10 manufacturers to remove the stimulant DMAA from their products after supplements containing the ingredient led to cases of liver failure so severe, some people who took them needed transplants. DMAA has also been linked to at least one death.
But the agency has yet to warn consumers or recall products that have BMPEA in them.
In response to Cohen’s findings, the FDA says its first priority when it comes to dietary supplements is ensuring safety.
“While our review of the available information on products containing BMPEA does not identify a specific safety concern at this time, the FDA will consider taking regulatory action, as appropriate, to protect consumers,” says JuliAnn Putnam, an FDA spokesperson, in an emailed statement.
Researcher Criticizes the FDA
While researching the chemical, Cohen says he found something he calls disturbing: In 2012, the FDA’s own scientists also tested acacia supplements and found BMPEA in about half the products they tested. And they determined -- by testing Acacia rigidula leaves -- that there was no such compound in the plant. Their study was published in 2013 in the Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis.