Chemistry and Life

Medicinal chemistry. Pharmacology. Toxicology. Environmental sciences.


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Methylhexanamine (also called 1,3-dimethylamylamine or DMAA) is a stimulant drug invented in the 1940s that was once used as nasal decongestant.  Even though it was withdrawn decades ago as a pharmaceutical drug, it is used as an ingredient in some marketed “energy boosting” supplements.

Normally, synthetic pharmaceutical drugs cannot be used in dietary supplements, but it has been claimed that methylhexanamine is natural and can be found in the oil extracted from geraniums.  In the United States the FDA generally does not have the authority to regulate natural chemical compounds this way.

There is at least one scientific report suggesting that geranium oil does indeed contain trace amounts of methylhexanamine.  A more recent and more thorough study that used multiple research labs and multiple plants types from multiple sources failed to find even a trace of methylhexanamine in any sample.  Nevertheless, for many years, the FDA did not intervene because it was potentially natural.

So if a supplement claims to contain methylhexanamine because it uses geranium oil, then the consumer is getting only uselessly small amounts of it, if any.  And if a “natural” supplement does contain a pharmacologically useful amount, then it is surely adulterated with synthetic material produced in a laboratory.

In recent years, potential hazards associated with consumption of methylhexanamine-containing supplements have concerned the FDA enough for them to take action.  Elevated blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, shortness of breath, tightening of the chest, heart attacks, and even death have been reported.    So the FDA does not currently permit supplements that contain methylhexanamine to be sold in the United States.

This just goes to show that the regulatory scheme in the US where natural ingredients with pharmacological effects cannot be regulated the same way that synthetic ingredients are is unjustifiable.  It is predicated on the falsehood that anything natural is inherently safer than anything synthetic.  And unless you study at the Gwyneth Paltrow School of Toxicology (“I don’t think anything that is natural can be bad for you”, she reportedly said), you know that some of the world’s most dangerous substances come from plants and animals.  How many people suffered health problems (or even died!) because of a tenuous claim that methylhexanamine is natural?

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