The United States Army is investigating whether certain dietary supplements marketed towards athletes may have played a role in the deaths of two U.S. soldiers.
Top dietary supplements like Jack3d and OxyElite Pro were removed from military bases after two soldiers died last year from heart attacks during exercise, according to a spokesman for the Army’s assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. Last summer, a 22-year old soldier collapsed during a training run with his unit. Last fall, a 32-year old soldier at the same base collapsed after a physical fitness test. Toxicology reports show they had active ingredients from these supplements in their system, although they will not identify which ones.
These types of supplements are so popular among athletes because they contain the ingredient dimethylamylamine (DMAA), which is advertised to increase energy and metabolism. As a precaution, the Defense Department has removed all products containing DMAA from stores on military bases pending an Army safety review, said Peter J. Graves, an Army spokesman.
Makers and retailers say that DMAA is a dietary supplement, but many medical experts said it should be classified as a drug, which would require it to earn approval from the Food and Drug Administration before it could be marketed to consumers. Many sports organizations, including the World Anti-Doping Authority, who regulates drug use by Olympic athletes, and several professional sports leagues have listed DMAA as a banned stimulant. In Canada, where the government health agency actually has already classified DMAA as a drug, companies cannot sell products containing the stimulant if they are marketed as diet supplements.
Peter J. Graves, an Army spokesman, said that in addition to DMAA having been identified in the toxicology reports of the two soldiers, the Army has also received reports of liver and kidney failure, seizures, loss of consciousness and rapid heartbeat in other military personnel who have used supplements containing DMAA.
Kerri Toloczko, a spokeswoman for USPlabs who manufactures both Jack3d and OxyElite Pro, said in a statement that “there have been over one billion doses of DMAA-containing products taken without a single corroborated serious” health issues when used as directed.
According to USPlabs, DMAA is a naturally occurring compound found in an Asian geranium and is a mild stimulant similar to caffeine, but many medical experts, and even industry insiders, say DMAA is a very powerful drug similar to ephedra, another stimulant that the FDA banned in 2004 as a dietary supplement after the deaths of several well known athletes died after using the substance.
Under United States law, dietary supplements are defined as products containing only supplemental dietary ingredients, like vitamins or minerals, and do not need FDA approval before they are sold. As of now, civilians can still purchase these supplements in stores, but use caution and speak with your doctor first.