Dietary supplements claim they can do everything from enhancing athletic performance to improving cognitive function and providing overall health benefits, but a new Harvard study finds that some of these supplements may actually contain a purposefully mislabeled dangerous synthetic stimulant that could prove deadly.
A study by Harvard researchers recently published in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis found that 11 out of 21 supplements they tested that claimed to contain the organic substance Acadia rigidula (found only in a shrub native only to Texas and Mexico), actually contained a synthetic amphetamine-liked stimulant known as BMPEA (beta methylphenlethylamine). Amphetamines can cause heart attacks, strokes or death due to increased heart rate and blood pressure. BMPEA has never been tested on humans but tests on dogs and cats from the 1930’s and 1940’s found increased blood pressure and heart rates after BMPEA exposure. The World Anti-Doping Association has banned BMPEA.
Some of the offending products are sold under the names JetFuel T-300, Fastin-XR and Black Widow.
Other disturbing findings in the Harvard study focus on the conduct of the FDA. The study uncovered that as early as 2013, FDA officials found BMPEA in 9 out of 21 supplements it tested, yet failed to warn the public about the presence of BMPEA or against taking BMPEA, and did not order manufacturers to remove it from their products. In fact, the study found that the percentage of supplements containing BMPEA has actually increased since FDA found the offending substance in 2013.
Dr. Pieter Cohen, an Assistant Professor at Harvard and one of the researchers and authors of the study, believes in this instance that the FDA failed miserably in its duty to the public. He and his fellow researchers are calling on the FDA to “immediately warn consumers about BMPEA and take aggressive enforcement action to eliminate BMPEA in dietary supplements.” Dr. Cohen fears that the FDA regulatory framework, which allows dietary supplements on the market with no pre-market testing or approval provides a system wherein supplement makers can hide dangerous ingredients in their products, and deceptively label products, with no fear of repercussion until a problem arises. Dr. Cohen warns against consumers taking any supplement containing BMPEA.
Led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, fourteen Attorneys General are asking Congress to launch a formal federal investigation into the dietary supplement industry, and are urging Congress to give the FDA greater regulation and enforcement powers. Under the1 994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education, dietary supplements do not have to undergo rigorous testing or meet FDA standards before being sold to the public, unlike prescription drugs. The law does not allow the FDA authority to regulate or enforce dietary supplements unless and until after a problem is found.
Democratic Senator Charles Schumer wants the FDA to ban BMPEA altogether, and to hold supplement makers accountable that use the dangerous substance, and purposefully mislabel their products.
Democratic Senators and known consumer advocates Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut) and Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Illinois) urge the FDA to exercise all regulatory authority in its power and to take “swift, appropriate, regulatory action against these mislabeled and deceptive dietary supplements.”
Sadly, the FDA’s only response to the Harvard study was to issue letters to five supplement makers of eight of the products that contain the potentially harmful synthetic amphetamine-like stimulant known as BMPEA warning them that the stimulant was a potential hazard to the health of consumers. The FDA responded to Harvard researchers saying it does not find a “specific safety concern at this time.”
We believe sending letters to offending companies that purposefully mislabel their products is an incredibly weak response to a serious potential health risk to consumers. We join in the call for Congress to act swiftly to change the law, and to finally give the FDA the regulatory and enforcement powers it needs to properly do its job protecting the health and safety of the American people.
Dr. Cohen pleads with the FDA not to wait “until we have a body count. Just get the job done.” He continues, “The FDA not only has to move against BMPEA, but they need to move against this product to set an example of what are they going to do when other companies are introducing new stimulants.” We could not agree more. But until dietary supplements are tested and regulated like prescription drugs, supplement makers have no legal or monetary disincentive to stop making wild, unsubstantiated health benefit claims while at the same time hiding harmful ingredients in their products, all the while boosting sales in total disregard of consumer health. The time to act is now, and to act quickly before any more lives are put at risk.