Jacked Up on Sports Supplements? The DMAA Controversy Explained

Earlier this month, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) of Australia added an ingredient found in many pre-workout supplements like the popular Jack3D to their list of banned substances.

The compound called 1,3 –dimethylamylamine or DMAA, is marketed as a stimulant to enhance fat-loss, performance and stamina during exercise. 

It has already been prohibited in competitive sports by the World Anti-Doping Agency, and is now classified under Appendix C of the Poisons standard in Australia, meaning that the supply, sale or use of DMAA is illegal.

DMAA has also been used as a party-drug and was banned in New Zealand earlier this year for that reason.

The potential for abuse of DMAA containing supplements for recreational purposes was a major concern behind the banning of the compound in Australia.

DMAA has reportedly been linked with numerous side effects including elevated blood pressure, psychiatric disorders, headaches, vomiting, seizures, cerebral haemorrhage and stroke.

In early August, the WA State Coroner found that DMAA use was the cause of death of a mining worker, further prompting the TGA to crackdown on the compound.

This finding follows the death of two American soldiers in 2011 from heart attacks, also allegedly due to consumption of large amounts of DMAA containing products prior to fitness training.


How Does DMAA Work?

DMAA has a chemical structure similar to that of amphetamine. While it is not believed to have stimulant effects as strong as amphetamine, it works in a similar way by temporarily increasing mental alertness, speeding up heart rate and causing vasoconstriction which may increase blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular events.

DMAA was first used in 1944 as a patented medication for nasal congestion, but later taken off the consumer market. Following the banning of ephedra in 2005, DMAA was reintroduced as a supplement for central nervous system stimulation.


The Controversy Over Keeping Vs. Banning DMAA

The argument between manufacturers of DMAA containing products and regulatory bodies was based on the question of whether DMAA was a naturally occurring substance found in certain plants, specifically Chinese Geranium, or a synthetic compound.

A recent study published in Drug Testing and Analysis, found that of eight different Geranium extracts investigated, none tested positive for naturally occurring DMAA.

Therefore it was concluded that DMAA in sporting supplements does not come from Geranium extract and is instead synthetically made and added.

This finding added to the push for stricter regulation or banning of products in which significant amounts of synthetic substances were added.


Emed’s Comment

Frequent use of any supplements or drugs with stimulant effects is fraught with danger.

People who suffer from nervous system disorders like anxiety or from cardiovascular conditions should especially avoid stimulants, as they are likely to exacerbate existing health problems.

Long-term stimulation of the body’s central nervous system and adrenal glands by DMAA or recreational stimulants, even large amounts of caffeine, can lead to nutritional deficiencies, dehydration, lowered immune function, metabolic dysfunction and eventually physical and mental exhaustion.

We urge any DMAA users to avoid buying DMAA supplements online as there is no control over the quality or potency of these supplements, and the likelihood of adverse reactions to these products is greatly increased.


Alternative natural supplements we can recommend for performance enhancing actions without the harmful side effects include:

1. Rhodiola 

Traditionally used as an adaptogenic herb to improve physical and mental stress resistance, Rhodiola also has potent antioxidant effects, is cardioprotective and can improve mood and alleviate fatigue. 

In the sporting arena, Rhodiola has been found in a recent trial to enhance endurance exercise capacity even when given in acute doses before exercise, can shorten recovery time following high intensity exercise and improves cellular energy production. 

2. Ginseng

Ginseng is a well known herb with stimulating effects on the body. What sets it apart from other stimulants such as DMAA is that it also supports the body's stress adaptation and energy production processes so it does not lead to fatigue or adrenal depletion with long-term use.

That being said, some types of Ginseng are more stimulating than others. Panax, or Korean Ginseng is considered one of the most stimulating types of Ginseng and would best suit pre-workout use to help improve exercise performance, cardiorespiratory function and mental acuity.

Eleuthrococcus, or Siberian Ginseng has more gentle stimulating effects on the body and is a great herb to take longer-term to help maintain stamina and endurance, improve mental and physical performance, immune strength and stress adaptation capabilities. 

We recommend MediHerb Rhodiola and Ginseng Complex and Siberian Ginseng supplements for endurance, stamina and immune support when exercising. These products are of high quality, potency and standardised for active constituents so you know exactly what you are getting! 

3. Tribulus

Tribulus is a popular male tonic, known for its benefits on male libido and sexual function. 

It is also believed to enhance general endurance, stamina and has anabolic effects on the body via increased testosterone production in males. This makes Tribulus a useful workout aid for muscle mass-gaining and strength training.

Emed loves Tribulus Forte as it contains a high dose of standardised Tribulus extract to enhance male health and achieve the best results. 

4. Green Tea

Green tea not only has powerful antioxidant qualities, it also helps to burn excess body fat, especially around the abdomen, by increasing energy expenditure and fat oxidation. 

Try our potent Thermogenic Fat Loss supplement for the thermogenic benefits of Green Tea extract, plus added herbals to help regulate appetite and food cravings too!

5. Vitamins and Minerals for Energy and Endurance

A number of nutrients are essential for proper energy production and muscle recovery in general and when exercising. 

Physically active people have increased nutritional requirements over people with sedentary lifestyles and it is important to make sure these requirements are met to avoid injury, illness or fatigue as a result of frequent exercise.

Protein is essential for energy production, muscle repair, recovery and muscle mass gaining (if that is your aim).

Many amino acids found in protein play specific roles in improving energy levels prior to workouts (BCAAs, creatine), supporting immune function and post exercise recovery (glutamine) as well as improving fat metabolism (carnitine). You can read more about the functions of individual amino acids here.

To see our range of Recommended Protein Supplements click here. 

Nutrients such as Omega 3 essential fatty acids, CoEnzyme Q10, Magnesium, B-vitamins and Electrolytes are also required for cellular energy production, muscle relaxation and recovery, hydration and fat and carbohydrate metabolism. 


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