A new study finds BMPEA—a potentially dangerous chemical—is an ingredient in popular weight loss and workout supplements sold in hundreds of Vitamin Shoppe stores nationwide.
More Bad News about Diet Supplements
"A serious health risk"
BMPEA was first synthesized in the 1930s as a replacement for amphetamine (a powerful stimulant), but its side effects on humans have never been tested. In December 2014, Canadian health officials decided that BMPEA was a serious health risk. They pulled supplements known to contain BMPEA from Canadian store shelves and issued a public health alert stating that "Amphetamine stimulants can increase blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature; lead to serious cardiovascular complications (including stroke) at high doses; suppress sleep and appetite, and be addictive."
Hidden, secret ingredients
A recent study led by Dr. Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, discovered that some companies spike weight-loss and exercise supplements with amphetamine-like products, and then hide them on product labels under the names of obscure plants to give the impression that they are natural botanical extracts.
U.S. federal law
Since 1994, dietary supplements (with some exceptions) are allowed to contain only ingredients that are part of the food supply or that were already on the market before 1994. Since BMPEA has never been sold as a food or a supplement, any product containing it can be considered adulterated. The FDA documented the use of BMPEA in supplements over two years ago but hasn't recalled the products or issued a health alert to consumers as it has done with other adulterated supplements.
FDA and dietary supplements
Unlike prescription drugs and medical devices, dietary supplements are mainly exempt from FDA oversight. This means they do not undergo federal reviews of their safety or effectiveness before they are sold to the public. So, tainted or dangerous supplements are not usually pulled from the market until the FDA receives reports that consumers were harmed.
Recent herbal supplement fraud case
The BMPEA issue comes on top of the recent New York State fraud case in which GNC, Walmart, Target, and Walgreens were discovered to be selling alleged herbal supplements that actually consisted only of such ingredients as rice, house plants, and garlic. One supplement claimed on its label to contain no wheat or gluten but, in fact, contained both.
Dietary supplements, including vitamins, are a multibillion dollar industry which, in 2013 and 2014 spent nearly $1.5 million lobbying to prevent even such minimal federal oversight as the Dietary Supplement Labeling Act—a bill that would require supplement labels to carry basic information about possible side effects and ingredients that could be harmful to children and pregnant women.