Harmful Substances Your Supplement Shouldn’t Have

Researchers find dangerous new and banned ingredients in common supplements

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Supplement users have good reason to be concerned about the ingredients in the products they consume. Research published in the peer-reviewed journal Clinical Toxicology identified two ingredients that may be dangerous to your health. The study also found that two ingredients previously removed from the market due to safety concerns are still added to popular over-the-counter supplements.

Dangerous Supplement Ingredients—Old and New

Researchers from agencies including NSF International, Harvard Medical School, and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands conducted a study to determine if potentially dangerous new ingredients are added to weight loss and workout supplements sold in the United States.

As part of the study, the scientists identified and targeted two supplement ingredients that had been previously banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

The banned stimulants included:

  • 1,3-dimethylamylamine (1,3-DMAA): In 2012 the FDA banned this stimulant due, in part, to safety concerns. The substance has been linked to serious cardiovascular risks, hemorrhagic stroke, and sudden death. 1,3-DMAA and its chemical cousins may be marketed under the names 2-amino-isoheptane or Aconitum kusnezoffii.
  • 1,3-dimethylbutylamine (1,3-DMBA): This ingredient is an analog or "chemical cousin" of 1,3-DMAA and may cause similar health problems. The substance has been shown to raise blood pressure in animals, but the risk in humans is not fully understood.

The researchers then set out to determine if other stimulant ingredients with a similar chemical structure to the banned substances are being added to supplements to provide the same physiological effect to users.

Scientists are concerned that new experimental stimulant ingredients might cause the same dangerous health consequences as stimulants that have been banned previously for safety reasons.

Not only did researchers find these stimulants, which have potentially harmful side effects, but they also found that the previously banned stimulants were still present in certain products.

The newer stimulants included:

  • 1,4-dimethylamylamine (1,4-DMAA): This chemical cousin of 1,3-DMAA has been shown to cause increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure in animals. The stimulant's effects on humans are not known, but scientists have good reason to believe that it may cause harm. The supplement ingredient is marketed as a natural plant extract, although researchers have not found evidence that it is derived from plants. 
  • Octodrine: This ingredient was originally developed as a treatment for bronchitis and other related conditions. But the FDA-approved medications that included octodrine contained significantly lower doses than the amounts found in the supplements targeted in this study. Animal studies have suggested that the stimulant may cause adverse cardiovascular effects.

Products Containing Potentially Dangerous Ingredients

Only six pre-workout and weight loss supplements were studied as part of this research. The study results demonstrate that the stimulants found in each product were present in quantities expected to produce potentially dangerous effects in the body.



Banned or Unapproved Ingredient

Game Day

MAN Sports



Gold Star



Chaos and Pain


Simply Skinny Pollen

Bee Fit with Trish

1,3-DMAA and

Cannibal Ferox AMPED

Chaos and Pain


Triple X

Gold Star


Study authors caution supplement users that their research only provides a "snapshot of what consumers may be exposed to." There may be other products on the market that contain these potentially dangerous stimulants and the potentially harmful ingredients may or may not be identified on the label.

How to Avoid Dangerous Supplements

John Travis is a study author and is NSF International’s Senior Research Scientist. He says that this study and research like it help consumers to be aware of unsafe products and also help the supplement industry as a whole to maintain integrity.

"The vast majority of industry manufacturers are committed to providing safe products to the consumer. But there are a small number of bad players and the damage they cause is two-fold. First, they put consumers at risk. And second, they give the entire industry a black eye."

Based on the current research, study authors are encouraging consumers to avoid products that are labeled as containing “2-aminoisoheptane” or Aconitum kusnezoffii. But Travis says that there are other steps you can take to stay safe when you use a workout or diet supplement.

"Consumers can look for the NSF International certification mark on products that they buy. The certification verifies that supplement labels are accurate and that the products are free from harmful levels of stimulants like DMAA and DMBA or other potentially harmful compounds."

John Travis, NSF International’s Senior Research Scientist

NSF International is a not-for-profit health and safety organization whose mission it is to provide consumer awareness and boost public safety.

A Word From Verywell

Millions of Americans take diet and workout supplements without suffering any adverse health consequences. But as this research shows, there is a small but significant potential for harm.

If you use a supplement, do your research before you buy. Investigate the listed ingredients to make sure that they are not banned or that they contain questionable substances. And work together with your primary care provider to stay healthy. Tell your doctor if you are taking any supplements, as they may interfere with your medication or the management of a health condition. If you feel unusual side effects while taking a supplement, get the advice of a medical professional to rule out the potential for harm.

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  1. Cohen PA, Travis JC, Keizers PHJ, Deuster P, Venhuis BJ. Four experimental stimulants found in sports and weight loss supplements: 2-amino-6-methylheptane (octodrine), 1,4-dimethylamylamine (1,4-DMAA), 1,3-dimethylamylamine (1,3-DMAA) and 1,3-dimethylbutylamine (1,3-DMBA). Clin Toxicol. 2018;56(6):421-426. doi:10.1080/15563650.2017.1398328

  2. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Using Dietary Supplements Wisely. Updated January 2019.