College of Science

Researchers say DMAA stimulant almost certainly synthetic

A UT Arlington professor is adding new evidence to the debate over DMAA, a popular sports supplement that has been embroiled in controversy involving professional athletes and even the U.S. Army.

Daniel W. Armstrong, who holds the Robert A. Welch Chair in Chemistry at UT Arlington, investigated whether 1,3-dimethylamylamine (DMAA) in numerous supplements came from natural or synthetic sources. Armstrong's team found that it is unlikely the DMAA in supplements comes from the geranium plant or its extracted oil, as companies have sometimes claimed.

Armstrong is the corresponding author on a paper titled "1,3-Dimethylamylamine (DMAA) in supplements and geranium products: natural or synthetic?" It is currently online in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/dta.1368/abstract). Co-authors are Ying Zhang, Zachary Breitbach and Ross M. Woods, a former and current graduate students in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UT Arlington.

DMAA, also known as 1-3 dimethylpentylamine or methylhexaneamine, is not regulated as a drug by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because supplement manufacturers claimed it was a natural component of the geranium plant. However, the agency sent letters in April to 10 companies that manufactured and distributed dietary supplements containing DMAA, warning them about marketing products for which evidence of safety has not been submitted. The letters informed the companies that synthetic DMAA is not a "dietary ingredient" and, therefore, is ineligible for use as an active ingredient in a dietary supplement, according to an FDA press release.

Manufacturers have responded by removing DMAA from their products or insisting that the stimulant is natural and safe, according to media reports.

DMAA is known to narrow blood vessels and arteries, which can elevate blood pressure and may lead to shortness of breath and even heart attack, according to the FDA. The FDA says it has received 42 adverse event reports on products containing DMAA.

Armstrong said that in supplements with significant amounts of synthetic
pharmacological compounds added "information should be clearly labeled, including their effects and possible side effects, so that consumers can make an informed choice."

The World Anti-Doping Agency added DMAA to its list of prohibited substances as worries about its effects have surfaced in the past few years. Late last year, the U.S. Army pulled supplements with DMAA from all of its on-base stores after two soldiers' deaths were linked to supplement use. Several lawsuits concerning companies' claims about DMAA origins and status as a "dietary supplement" have also been filed.

Armstrong's research team used chiral gas chromatography, which utilizes special columns that he invented, to analyze 13 different supplements that listed either DMAA or geranium extract as ingredients. They found that the DMAA extracted from the supplements had the same stereoisomeric ratios - a characteristic of their chemical makeup - as synthetic DMAA.

The groups also used High Performance Liquid Chromatography to test eight different geranium oils with origins from China to the Middle East. They found no detectable DMAA in any of them. Clearly, natural sources cannot account for the DMAA in the supplements, the paper said.

"Dan Armstrong and his team are contributing useful information to the public debate over DMAA. This is the kind of valuable research the public expects from its university campuses," said Pamela Jansma, dean of the UT Arlington College of Science.

Armstrong and his coauthors presented their findings on DMAA in June at the 24th International Symposium on Chiral Discrimination in Fort Worth. Armstrong and Kevin Schug, UT Arlington associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, organized that event.

Posted July 16, 2012