May 7, 2012 -- About one week after the FDA asked 10 manufacturers to provide safety information on DMAA, a speed-like ingredient found in some supplements, a Harvard researcher is calling for an out-and-out ban on DMAA.
DMAA, short for dimethylamylamine, is popular among people looking to build their muscles or lose weight. It is an ingredient in about 200 brand-name supplements including Code Red, Hemo Rage Black, Hydroxystim, Jack3D, Napalm, and Nitric Blast.
The concern is that DMAA may narrow blood vessels, which can increase blood pressure and lead to shortness of breath, tightening in the chest, or even heart attack. So far, the FDA has received 42 adverse event reports about products containing DMAA. Canada has already banned DMAA from all supplements.
"The main message about DMAA is that it should be avoided," says Pieter Cohen, MD. He is an internist at Cambridge Health Alliance and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "This ingredient should never have been in supplements in first place."
DMAA was first introduced in 1948 to treat nasal allergies, but was withdrawn as an approved drug by the 1970s.
Is DMAA dangerous? "Currently research is being conducted to see how dangerous they are, but we know that there have been reports of death, stroke, and heart failure among people taking DMAA," he says. Cohen published a letter in the Archives of Internal Medicine detailing his concerns about DMAA.
DMAA is often "touted as natural stimulant," according to the FDA. Cohen writes this "natural" claim is based on one study from a now-defunct journal claiming it was an ingredient in geranium oil.
"It is more potent than ephedra, and ephedra is already removed from the market," he says. "At best, DMAA is a waste of money and at worst, it can damage your health."
For now, the FDA is asking the manufacturers to submit data showing that DMAA is safe.
Steve Mister is the president and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) in Washington, D.C. He says the jury is still out on whether any safety issues exist with DMAA. CRN is a trade group that represents supplement makers.
The FDA's action is mild. "If they really thought there was a causal connection between reports of death and DMAA, they would use their recall authority and they've chosen not to use that," he says.
He is waiting to see what the FDA says to draw any conclusions. "If the FDA says this is not a legitimate ingredient for supplements, then it's game over."
Until then, "If you are using DMAA, read the label and follow dosing instructions."