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Coming clean: Will the real DMAA please stand up?

By Shane Starling , 07-Mar-2012
Last updated on 26-Sep-2014 at 10:45 GMT

Like the rapper Eminem, DMAA is being asked to confront its drug links
Like the rapper Eminem, DMAA is being asked to confront its drug links

USP Labs and other manufacturers and retailers that trade in products that contain the pre-workout stimulant DMAA are feeling the heat at the moment as scrutiny around the source and safety of the compound mounts.

It’s probably not the kind of workout USP Labs had in mind when they launched Jack3D and OxyElite a few years ago containing a bunch of stimulants the most controversial and problematic one being DMAA (1,3 dimethylamylamine) or MHA (methylhexanamine) or geranamine, or geranium stems or Forlane or…

…and here is the central problem – not safety – but source. If the safety issues are stemming from misuse or inadvertent overdosing, USP Labs should not be blamed. That’s another issue – its products are clearly labelled re: dosage. Quite thoroughly in fact.

I bought a jar of Jack3D, tried the recommended half a spoon in a glass of water for first timers. It made my heartrate jump about 50% and brought a mild burning sensation to my skin for about 30 minutes. There may have been an energy boost when I went road cycling.

Given it also contains caffeine, creatine and some other stimulants, it is little wonder it has also got quite a reputation as a ‘party aid’.

Which has not helped its cause, nor has the death of two US soldiers whose autopsies revealed DMAA traces in their blood. But before any toxicological issues can be seriously dealt with, we need to know just what it is we are dealing with here.

Plant or not plant?

So it seems the most pressing issue from both a toxicological and regulatory viewpoint is this: Is DMAA derived from the geranium plant as USP claims it is, or is it a synthetically manufactured compound? Is it authorised for use in food supplements or not?

Will the real DMAA please stand up? Not likely.

Imagine if you will, being in the gymboots of USP Labs? The sourcing issue is vital because if the DMAA USP Labs and others are using does indeed come from the geranium plant (USP Labs says a very special kind of geranium plant only found in one very special Chinese province), then botanical grandfathering may back the ingredient’s legitimacy. In the US. Elsewhere. That’s not certain, but it might.

The legitimacy barbell is in USP Labs’s sweaty hands, but it refuses to lift it. If its DMAA is sourced from special geraniums from the Rongjiang region of the Guizhou province, why will it not produce documents – a certificate of analysis for example – that demonstrates just that?

Show the world you had the right to have ‘geranium stems’ on the ingredients box of Jack3D although I now see you have changed this to just dimethylamylamine HCI – why have you done this if DMAA comes from the geranium like you say it does? Was that to comply with the American Herbal Products Association guidance?

Don’t you want to stick it to the boffins at Health Canada who stated unequivocally that DMAA does not come from the geranium? Make the UK medicines agency issue letters of apology to the many retailers it has told to strip shelves and catalogues of DMAA products it views as unlicensed medicines?…

You’re just getting the papers together, right USP? That paperwork can take a long time to organise especially coming all the way from the Rongjiang region of the Guizhou province in south central China. Right? Not likely.

Instead it establishes a website around Christmas time last year called DMAAresearch.com that defends the highly disputed 1996 Ping study that it says did use Rongjiang geranium and found DMAA, and says subsequent studies that found no DMAA in geranium used the wrong geranium oil types, which can be highly fickle.

As one quoted study notes (Jain, 2001): “Significant work on geranium essential oil has been carried out in different parts of India and it was found that chemical composition is influenced by location, drying of biomass prior to distillation, age of the leaves, method of distillation, application of growth regulators, storage of oil, presence of weed, wilt disease, and the effect of the semi-arid tropical climate.”

So geranium oils ain’t geranium oils. Fair enough. But USP Labs needs to come clean on its shady DMAA sourcing. Hate to see the largely silent trade groups get jacked off enough to publicly force it out of you. 

Shane Starling is the editor of NutraIngredients.com and FoodNavigator-Asia.com and has been writing about the nutrition industry for more than 10 years.

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