Is it a vitamin, or a “vitamin-like substance”? (Photo Courtesy of Universal Images Group / Getty Images)
A dangerous amphetamine-like drug has been detected in a host of herbal weight-loss and workout supplements sold nationwide. Harvard researchers found this untested, unapproved stimulant, called BMPEA, in 11 of 21 products labeled as containing Acacia rigidula, an obscure Southwestern shrub. BMPEA has never been tested in humans or cleared for use in pharmaceuticals or supplements, but it’s been proven to raise heart rate and blood pressure in dogs and cats.
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The Food and Drug Administration has known for more than two years that sketchy manufacturers were using the name "Acacia rigidula" to mask this speed-like substance. However, the agency has yet to issue a public safety warning, name the fraudulent companies making these products, or ban the supplements from sale. Canadian officials, on the other hand, acted swiftly once they detected BMPEA in products claiming to contain Acacia rigidula, yanking them from store shelves last December. The Canadians also noted that these spiked supplements contain caffeine, which, when combined with BMPEA, can create a super-stimulant effect and potentially cause serious cardiovascular problems, including stroke.
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The fact that the FDA sat on the knowledge that consumers were unknowingly being exposed to a dangerous drug and did nothing to stop it is puzzling. Because supplements are not required to earn FDA approval before going to market, it is crucial that the agency use its authority to take action against companies that run afoul of the law. Punishable infractions include mislabeling products, making unsubstantiated disease claims, and — certainly — spiking supplements with substances closely related to meth. Even the Council for Responsible Nutrition, the supplement industry’s leading trade association which routinely defends the industry’s integrity against claims that it’s too loosely regulated, has publicly called on the FDA to enforce these laws before there are serious health consequences.
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In the meantime, the Harvard researchers have released the names of the products that tested positive for BMPEA, so you can steer clear. Listed in order of the highest to the lowest amount of BMPEA found per pill or scoop, they are:
Aro Black Series Burn
Most of these are made by one company, Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals.
This is not the first time that an illicit drug has been found in herbal supplements — or that the FDA has been slow to act. Back in 2013, the FDA finally banned another dangerous stimulant that had worked its way into weight-loss products, DMAA, after it had caused a handful of deaths.
Although there are a multitude of legitimate companies that make quality herbal supplements, bad actors will keep sneaking in through the back door with fraudulent products. Because of that, when shopping for herbal supplements, you should stick with reputable national brands that follow the rules and have science to back their products. Never be wooed by crazy weight-loss claims or promises that a product will drastically improve your workouts.
By Melaina Juntti