Sports supplements sold online found to be mislabeled

Posted 14 August 2023

Researchers analyzed 57 dietary supplements sold online and labeled as containing: R vomitoria, methylliberine, turkesterone, halostachine, or octopamine.

The researchers found:

  • no detectable amount of the labeled ingredient in 23 of the products
  • the actual quantity of the labeled ingredient ranged from 0.02% to 334% of the labeled quantity in 34 of the products
  • only six accurately labeled products that contained a quantity of the ingredient within 10% of the labeled quantity
  • seven products that contained at least one ingredient prohibited by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Cohen PA, and others. Presence and quantity of botanical ingredients with purported performance-enhancing properties in sports supplements. JAMA Network Open, 6(7):e2323879, 2023

Presence and Quantity of Botanical Ingredients With Purported Performance-Enhancing Properties in Sports Supplements

Pieter A. Cohen, MD1,2; Bharathi Avula, PhD3; Kumar Katragunta, PhD3; et alJohn C. Travis, BS4; Ikhlas Khan, PhD3

JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(7):e2323879. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.23879

Since the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned ephedra from dietary supplements in 2004, supplement manufacturers have promoted a complex variety of alternative botanical compounds for sports enhancement. Extracts of Rauwolfia vomitoria containing α-yohimbine, the caffeine-like compound methylliberine, the partial β2-agonist halostachine, the plant steroid turkesterone, and norepinephrine-like octopamine are all found in plants and are promoted in dietary supplements for their stimulant or anabolic effects.1-3

The FDA does not preapprove these ingredients, or any supplement ingredient, for either efficacy or safety before their introduction, but FDA inspections have found that supplement manufacturers often fail to comply with basic manufacturing standards, such as establishing the identity, purity, or composition of the final product. Given the products’ potentially complex physiologic effects and concerns regarding manufacturing quality, we determined the accuracy of dietary supplement labels declaring R vomitoria, methylliberine, halostachine, octopamine, and turkesterone.

Dietary supplement products were included in this case series if they were labeled as containing 1 of the following ingredients: R vomitoria, methylliberine, turkesterone, halostachine, or octopamine. All products were purchased online, and products were excluded if the actual label did not list 1 of the 5 ingredients. Powder from the dietary supplement products was reconstituted in methanol and analyzed for the presence and quantity of the 5 ingredients and FDA-prohibited ingredients by liquid chromatography quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry. See the eAppendix in Supplement 1 for additional details.

Of the 63 products purchased, 6 did not list 1 of the 5 ingredients on the label; therefore, 57 products were analyzed (13 listing R vomitoria; 21, methylliberine; 8, turkesterone; 7, halostachine; and 8, octopamine). Twenty-three of 57 products (40%) did not contain a detectable amount of the labeled ingredient. Of the products that contained detectable amounts of the listed ingredient, the actual quantity ranged from 0.02% to 334% of the labeled quantity (Table). Six of 57 products (11%) contained a quantity of the ingredient within 10% of the labeled quantity.

Seven of 57 products (12%) were found to contain at least 1 FDA-prohibited ingredient (Table). Five different FDA-prohibited compounds were found, including 4 synthetic simulants, 1,4-dimethylamylamine, deterenol, octodrine, oxilofrine, and omberacetam. Six products contained 1 of these prohibited ingredients, and 1 product contained 4 different prohibited ingredients.

Eighty-nine percent of dietary supplement labels did not accurately declare the ingredients found in the products, and 12% of products contained FDA-prohibited ingredients. A prior study4 of dietary supplements, before the FDA ephedra ban, found that 6 of 12 products (50%) contained ephedra within 10% of the labeled amount. In a more recent study5 of caffeine content of sports supplements, 9 of 20 products (45%) contained a quantity of caffeine within 10% of the labeled quantity. In the current study, which to our knowledge is the first to quantify these 5 supplement ingredients, only 11% of products were accurately labeled and 5 different FDA-prohibited ingredients were found, including an unapproved drug available in Russia (ie, omberacetam), 3 drugs formerly available in Europe (ie, octodrine, oxilofrine, and deterenol), and 1 drug that has never been approved in any country (ie, 1,4-dimethylamylamine).6

The study has limitations, including that the sample size was small, only 1 sample of each brand was analyzed, and only supplements containing 1 of 5 targeted ingredients were analyzed. It is not known whether the results are generalizable to other botanical ingredients in sports supplements or whether quantities might also vary among batches within a given brand. Given these findings, clinicians should advise consumers that supplements listing botanical ingredients with purported stimulant or anabolic effects may not be accurately labeled and may contain FDA-prohibited drugs.

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