The FDA’s DMAA Gamble
By James J. Gormley
On April 24th, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent warning letters to 10 companies cautioning them, in the strictest possible terms, that their DMAA (1,3 Dimethylamylamine)-containing products may be considered new dietary ingredients for which notifications have not been submitted and, so, would be adulterated products in violation of law and subject to seizure.
And, oh, by the way, since DMAA is a synthetic version of what may or may not be a constituent in geranium, it could not even be an NDI if it wanted to be, according to the FDA.
The FDA is resting its very, very shaky case on a false premise, or misguided hope, that DMAA is not found in geranium and that synthetic analogues of naturally occurring consumables would never qualify as a dietary ingredient. This willful misinterpretation of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) comes directly from the FDA’s NDI Draft Guidance.
For the FDA to assert that no synthesized natural compound could ever be a dietary supplement is tantamount to saying that the vast majority of all dietary supplement products on the market today are adulterated.
Most dietary supplements on the market today contain synthetic analogues of naturally occurring natural ingredients, including vitamin C, alpha lipoic acid, and various amino acids.
In truth, DMAA is a constituent of the geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) plant, having been identified in the oil obtained from the steam distillation of the stems and leaves. This DMAA-containing plant has been used for centuries as a food item (e.g., leaves are infused for teas and added to desserts and confections, flowers are used in salads, while the oil has been used as a flavoring agent). In fact, the geranium plant and its oil are generally recognized as safe (GRAS). In terms of safety, GNC, for example, has sold 440 million servings of DMAA since 2007, with only one reported adverse event.
The FDA is following on the heels of the Defense Logistics Agency, which took products containing DMAA off military base shelves earlier this year based on two cases of death anecdotally linked to DMAA—despite the fact that the Pentagon has acknowledged no link between DMAA and the soldiers’ deaths.
On September 6th, 2011, Barry Lynch from Cantox Health Sciences International issued an open memo in which he stated that not only do published data already exist (Ping et al., 1996) confirming that DMAA does occur in geranium oil, but also that USPlabs (the maker of Jack3d) has obtained new data “from two independent and highly respected analytical chemistry laboratories, utilizing advanced validated […] instrumentation and methods, [that] corroborate the original data published by Ping et al., and further demonstrate the occurrence of DMAA in the geranium plant […] and its edible oil.”
To be clear, the FDA is outrageously overstepping its bounds by using (although not overtly citing) non-binding opinion from a draft guidance document in Warning Letters in order to not only scare the named companies from using DMAA any longer but to also cause a widespread chilling effect in the marketplace where gun-shy companies preemptively pull an ingredient that is attracting the FDA’s attention rather than go to bat for it or join with other companies that are.
We see this happening already. Even companies that did not receive a Warning Letter are reformulating or have already reformulated their products into non-DMAA alternatives.
This is exactly what the FDA wants. Use inexpensive Warning Letters (as opposed to attempting to drag companies into Federal Court or to actually prove anything, which it cannot) to frighten the marketplace into “complying” with a version of the law that the Agency wished were in place but is not.
But no matter, if the industry decides that is much easier, and safer, to just sacrifice DMAA to avoid nasty letters from the FDA and to shield itself from frivolous class-action lawsuits citing non-binding Warning Letters, then it will have conceded defeat without a live bullet having even been fired.
And this is not to be critical of industry firms either, which honestly need to balance legal and regulatory exposure with the perceived or actual value of keeping a now-controversial ingredient in products, not to even mention public companies’ shareholder concerns and jittery insurance company worries.
That being said, the whole ugly mess reminds me of the early years in our current millennium when ephedra’s neck was on the proverbial chopping block. Many of us testified on behalf of this wonderful master botanical and tried to enlist the aid of an ephedra council from which the members had fled as if from a burning house—the San Diego ephedrine scandal did not help things, to put it mildly.
Now we have an ingredient on the chopping block.
It may not be a master herb with thousands of years of traditional use. It is not a full-spectrum botanical. And it has been included in some products whose marketing is not what we would hold up as a shining example of advertising probity and conservatism. But it does represent a line in the sand drawn by the FDA.
If we were to fully cave on DMAA, the FDA will use this as precedent for establishing a beach head on the shore of “nothing synthetic can be an NDI,” and then where will we be and what will we have gained—or lost?