Dimethylamylamine - DMAA
GNC and Vitamin Shoppe Shouldn't Rely on Flower Power
July 15, 2012
By JUSTIN LAHART
GNC Holdings and Vitamin Shoppe aren't pharmaceutical firms, but a chunk of their future revenue could depend as much on the opinions of scientists as on the views of shoppers perusing their shelves.
Dimethylamylamine, or DMAA, is a key ingredient in supplements used by weightlifters looking to amp up before working out and dieters trying to curb their appetites. But it has raised health concerns. The Defense Department pulled supplements containing DMAA from military base shelves last year on concerns it played a role in two soldiers' deaths. The Food and Drug Administration in April warned supplement makers and suppliers using DMAA that they hadn't shown that it is safe.
Some retailers have stopped selling products that contain DMAA, but both GNC and Vitamins Shoppe continue to offer them. GNC points out that it doesn't manufacture private label products that include DMAA, and that the DMAA-containing products it sells "are widely available at other retailer outlets." Vitamin Shoppe didn't respond to requests for comment but has previously said that if the FDA requires it to recall a product it will "promptly comply."
DMAA use in supplements relies on a 1996 study in the now-defunct Journal of the Guizhou Institute of Technology, which said it found DMAA in a type of geranium. On that basis, supplement makers marketed the ingredient as naturally-occurring.
But others, including chemists at Australia's National Measurement Institute and at NSF International, a nonprofit organization in Ann Arbor, Mich. that certifies supplements' safety, have failed to find DMAA in geranium. In June, a study in the peer-reviewed Journal of Analytical Toxicology by a University of Mississippi led-team that included researchers at the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency found no DMAA in a variety of geranium samples. On Thursday, a study in the peer-reviewed journal Drug Testing and Analysis led by University of Texas at Arlington chemist Daniel Armstrong similarly described how tests detected no DMAA in eight geranium oil samples from different regions. The limit of detection was 10 parts per billion.
Absent evidence that DMAA exists in geranium, its time on store shelves could be short, says Marc Ullman, a specialist in FDA law with Ullman, Shapiro & Ullman. "If the substance is not found in nature at all, that's very significant because there's little statutory basis for saying this is a viable dietary ingredient," he says.
Some manufacturers stopped making supplements containing DMAA after the FDA's warning, but Dallas-based USPlabs still includes it in its popular Jack3d product. USPlabs says that an earlier version of the University of Texas study showed that there were, in fact, trace amounts of DMAA found in two geranium samples, and that the study's supporting materials back that up. It also says that forthcoming research will confirm DMAA's presence in the plant.
Mr. Armstrong says that those earlier, unpublished results were due to lab instrument contamination, and that Drug Testing and Analysis mistakenly put old supporting materials for the paper online.
The stakes are high. While neither GNC nor the Vitamin Shoppe disclose sales of supplements containing DMAA, both have noted in securities filings that they are top selling products. Whether or not the chemical is proved to be "natural" could yet cause reaction in the companies' share prices.