A number of weight loss and sports supplements were found to contain cocktails of banned and unapproved stimulants, including one dangerous stimulant FDA ordered manufacturers to stop using years ago.

Sports SupplementsAccording to a study by Pieter Cohen, MD, of Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts. He and co-authors examined the makeup of 17 brands of over-the-counter supplements in the U.S., purchased online, that were labeled to include Deterenol, a beta-agonist that has never been approved for use in the U.S., and which FDA banned from supplements in 2004.

Across those brands, the researchers found nine stimulant compounds that are not allowed in supplements, and eight different combinations of stimulants. Fewer than half contained only Deterenol (47%). Four brands included two stimulants, two brands combined three stimulants, and two other brands combined four stimulants.

These stimulants included phenpromethamine (Vonedrine), BMPEA, oxilofrine, octodrine, higenamine, 1,3-DMAA, 1,3-DMBA, and 1,4-DMAA.

Deterenol has been found in several supplements sold in the U.S. in previous studies, with its presence confirmed by FDA chemists — even though the agency has prohibited it. Yet, the researchers noted, the agency “has not advised manufacturers to remove Deterenol from products nor warned consumers to avoid supplements labeled as containing Deterenol.”

Cohen also said he was especially surprised to find that Phenpromethamine was the second most commonly detected stimulant. FDA also noticed Phenpromethamine’s presence in supplements while Cohen’s team was working on this study, he said, yet, as with Deterenol, the agency has declined to ask manufacturers to remove it or to alert the public.

The FDA declined to answer specific questions, instead emailing a statement: “The FDA is reviewing the findings of this paper,” a spokesperson wrote. “We appreciate studies like this for raising awareness and bringing needed attention to these matters. However, in general, the FDA does not comment on specific studies, but evaluates them as part of the body of evidence to further our understanding about a particular issue.”

Cohen’s group pointed out that theirs is not the first study to report such findings, some going back at least 7 years.

“It seems like the FDA is not active within this space so companies can do what they wish,” Cohen said. “Even when the FDA tries to do something … they clearly don’t follow up in a way that ensures that stimulants are removed.”

Banning Ephedra in 2004 has led to the “explosion” of other questionable stimulants in supplements, Cohen said. Manufacturers have slipped lesser-known, untested stimulants into supplements, often listing them on the bottle. Sometimes “it’s a matter of FDA reading the label and doing its job,” Cohen said.

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