As a doctor interested in getting and staying fit, at any age, I read a lot of information that crosses my desk about products, new exercise equipment, and workouts, aimed at boosting fitness goals. I always like to share anything I feel will benefit you in your quest to stay fit and healthy. Earlier this year, some disturbing information surfaced regarding a substance that many fitness enthusiasts have been (happily) using for a few years now. Yet, the FDA now wants to ban it as an illegal and unsafe substance. It’s called DMAA – short for 1, 3 dimethylamylamine – and is the focus ingredient in a product named Jack3d (pronounced jacked). Let me tell you more about this substance.
The “Jack3d” Controversy – Should DMAA Be Banned?
Since 2011, more than $100 million DMAA-containing products were sold in the United States – Jack3d being one of the more popular ones. People who use DMAA products swear by its exercise-enhancement properties that include a “powerful rush of energy where you just have to move”, as one loyal user put it. As such, it’s reported to rev you up to do your run when you don’t feel like it, or significantly boost any of your other workout efforts.
DMAA is a central nervous system stimulant that makes your heart beat faster – much like adrenaline pumping through your body – and can make you feel “antsy”, as one user said, if you don’t exercise after taking it. It’s also said to suppress appetite and increase metabolic rate. However, some medical researchers, like Dr. Pieter Cohen of Harvard University, see strong similarities between DMAA and Ephedra – another controversial stimulant-type supplement. Former Ephedra users saw DMAA as its replacement. Professional Supplements reported that 40 mg of DMAA was found equivalent in action to 25 mg of Ephedra.
Cohen believes that DMAA users are starting to experience some of the same adverse events reported with Ephedra, before it was banned some years ago, such as heart attacks, strokes and death. According to Science Based Medicine, DMAA is said to “narrow blood vessels and arteries, which leads to elevated blood pressures”. As you may already know, high blood pressure is a significant risk factor for stroke and heart attack.
In April 2013, NBC News reported on the controversy of DMAA and Jack3d, one of its signature products. Prior to that story airing however, the FDA had issued a warning about the dangers of using DMAA. This resulted in the Council for Responsible Nutrition (the leading trade association for dietary supplements) calling for product manufacturers who use DMAA in their products, and consumers who take them, to stop. Here’s why:
According to the report, the FDA had received 86 “adverse event” reports thought linked to products that contained DMAA. These events included side effects like liver and kidney failure, heart attacks, heart failure, vomiting, anxiety, depression, loss of consciousness, chest pain, and 5 deaths. The director of the FDA’s Division of Dietary Supplements Program, Dr. Daniel Fabricant, cited DMAA as “an illegal dietary supplement” yet the FDA has no jurisdiction over it. The FDA does not regulate products categorized as dietary supplements and therefore cannot not rule on their ‘safety or efficacy’ Fabricant explained.
The manufacturers of Jack3d, USP Labs, however, stand by their product saying it is a “safe and lawful dietary supplement, when used in accordance with labeled directions for use, and see no reason to withdraw it from the market”. The company cites 8 peer reviewed scientific research studies on DMAA, which reported that DMAA is a natural substance derived from a particular type of geranium found in China. It is placed into the dietary supplement category because it is a natural derived substance.
Dr. Cohen doesn’t believe that DMAA is extracted from a geranium – he believes it is an artificially created, man-made drug that’s potentially dangerous. As with Ephedra, DMAA causes your body to let go of a lot of water through urination and sweating. This can leave you dangerously dehydrated if you’re not drinking enough water. Exercising in heat with this product can lead to heat stroke and its serious consequences.
In response to the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s call for manufacturers to pull their DMAA products, 10 out of the 11 DMAA manufacturers have removed their DMAA products for sale, with the holdout being USP Labs. DMAA has also been banned in the United Kingdom, Australia and 6 other countries, and by the International Olympic Athlete committee.
The U.S. Military has also banned the use of DMAA-containing products, like Jack3d, in soldiers after the deaths of 2 young, healthy soldiers were attributed to DMAA. USP Labs claimed that there was no reason to believe the supplement had anything to do with the soldiers’ death, despite the fact that DMAA was found in the blood of one soldier on autopsy. The big supplement chain GNC still carries Jack3d and its loyal followers continue to buy it. GNC issued a statement that they had “no reason to believe that DMAA is unsafe.” Whose right?
Should You Heed the FDA Warning About DMAA Products?
It would seem that there might be enough anecdotal evidence to deem DMAA products to be unsafe to use. Yet, in all fairness, since researchers have likened DMAA to Ephedra, I have to recall to you that Ephedra had been used safely for over 5,000 years in TCM – Traditional Chinese Medicine – as a weight loss aid and treatment of other health conditions like asthma and bronchitis. As long as it was taken in recommended dosages, there were no reported adverse events.
The problems with Ephedra seemed to occur when people started taking higher than recommended doses in a given period of time to boost their exercise efforts. People with unknown blood pressure, heart or vascular conditions could have aggravated them unwittingly by taking Ephedra. The same may be true of DMAA – in specified doses taken in the recommended way, DMAA may not be anymore harmful than any other central nervous system stimulant. Lastly, it’s important to tell you that USP Labs reported, 4 days after the NBC News report aired, that they will be “phasing out” their DMAA products.
My overall impression is – just say “no” to DMAA products.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News
Deadly Workout Supplement? Jack3d outside the FDA’s Reach, http://rockcenter.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/11/17707934-deadly-workout-supplement-jack3d-outside-fdas-reach?lite
FDA v Jack3d, Round 2, http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/fda-v-jack3d-round-2/
DMAA versus Ephedra, http://training.fitness.com/supplements/dmaa-vs-ephedra-47230.html