Summer of DMAA: Spate of imports blocked in EU

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

'The substance is well known, under surveillance and forbidden,' a spokesperson for the Austrian food agency says. ©
'The substance is well known, under surveillance and forbidden,' a spokesperson for the Austrian food agency says. ©

Related tags Food supplements Dietary supplements Food and drug administration Us Fda

There have been several cases of the dangerous stimulant 1,3-dimethylamylamine (DMAA) being blocked at the EU borders over the last few months. But what is being done to stem the flow of the outlawed ingredient?

Dating from July and August, there are four cases of DMAA-containing products on the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), one of which concerned a sport nutrition supplement that also contained the pharmaceutical synephrine and a high content of caffeine.

All batches came from the US - making their way via the Netherlands and the UK to Germany and Austria - and three of the batches came from the same US producer. 

NutraIngredients asked the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) what it was doing to tackle the issue.

DMAA came under the spotlight back in 2012 when it was linked with cases of high blood pressure, nausea, cerebral haemorrhage, stroke and even death.

Perhaps the most high profile was the death of a 30-year-old runner during the London Marathon.

There were also several cases of US soldiers dying after taking DMAA-containing supplements​. 

A spokesperson said the FDA had taken “several actions” ​since the DMAA episode exploded in 2013.

According to its site​, this included sending letters to manufacturers and ordering the incineration and discontinuation of USPlab's DMAA-containing OxyElite Pro and Jack3d, which were estimated to have been worth more than $8m (€7.15m) at retail level.

Yet despite this effort, a paper in 2015​ suggested 39 products containing DMAA were still commercially available online in the US. At the time the FDA said it was following up on the issue.

A spokesperson told us this week: “US law does not require pre-market approval for dietary supplements. Under DSHEA [the US Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994], a firm is responsible for determining that the dietary supplements it manufactures or distributes are safe and that any representations or claims made about them are substantiated by adequate evidence to show that they are not false or misleading.”

Adding: “Except in the case of a new dietary ingredient, where pre-market review for safety data and other information is required by law, a firm does not have to provide FDA with the evidence it relies on to substantiate safety or effectiveness before or after it markets its products.”

'Well known, under surveillance and forbidden'

Meanwhile both the German and Austrian authorities acknowledged this substance – widely banned in the EU – was not a new problem.

“[T]he substance is well known, under surveillance and forbidden,” ​a spokesperson for the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) told us.

However he added: “As far as AGES is concerned we don’t see an increased occurrence of illegal use of DMAA.”

The German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) echoed this.

“The findings of unauthorised (like DMAA) or even prohibited substances in food supplements are a recurrent problem,”​ a BVL spokesperson said, adding there had been no increase of cases concerning this issue. 

Nor though has there been a significant decrease in reports of DMAA imports in recent years.

Between 2012 and 2014 there were 40 instances of unauthorised use of DMAA in food supplements recorded on the RASFF.

According to RASFF annual reports, in 2013 DMAA was one of the top unauthorised substances picked up in food supplements with seven cases recorded that year.

By 2014 there had been a slight dip to six cases, but the substance still featured at the top of its watch list among the likes of yohimbine and lithium.

Meanwhile in the UK – via which the latest cases this summer passed – responsibility is less clear cut. Both the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) told us the substance does not sit within their remits.   

The Dutch authority did not respond to our request for comment in time for the publication of this article.

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