Back in February of this year, Nutrition Business Journal reported in depth on the chorus of voices raising alarms about “geranium extracts” in preworkout supplements, a category of sports nutrition with outsized growth rates and sales topping $100 million in geranium-inclusive products alone, according to industry sources. We called the ingredient—believed by many scientists to not be geranium-derived at all, but rather a synthetic drug known better as 1,3 DMAA or methylhexaneamine—“the next nightmare” to hit the supplements industry and, through subsequent publications and presentations, called on industry to head off another ephedra by taking matters into its own hands.
This was, and is, a perfect opportunity for leading companies and organizations to step forward and make serious efforts at self-policing. It’s a perfect opportunity for industry to demonstrate with conviction that it truly cares about the health of its consumers. As we revisit this topic six months later, there’s a new question on NBJ’s mind. Who is actually capitalizing on this opportunity?
Industry reaction to geranium extracts
Max Muscle, a franchise retailer with more than 100 stores across the country, is clearly moving away from the ingredient. When we spoke in the spring, Max Muscle took a nuanced approach to the market, banning 1,3 DMAA from its private-label products but not from its approved vendor list. The company markets its own product, Full Blown Extreme, whose sales have suffered from competitors using 1,3 in products with a more noticeable stimulating effect. “There is tremendous pressure on our system to develop the preworkout category,” says Sean Greene, Max Muscle’s president. “It’s an unfair playing field when companies aren’t following the law. Our position is that 1,3 DMAA is a drug, and it’s not DSHEA-compliant, regardless of the lack of enforcement by FDA.”
NBJ also spoke to Colin Armbruster, Max Muscle’s regional director in Colorado and Utah, about sales strategies at play inside the stores to redirect consumers. “Corporate’s advice to me, and my advice to the stores, is not to sell 1,3 products,” says Armbruster. “In my experience, the stores in my territories are not actively pushing these products. Some stores will carry a 1,3 product on the shelves, but they use it to educate consumers against the ingredient.” Greene applauds and encourages sales strategies like this, in lieu of meaningful action by regulators to even that unfair playing field. “Max Muscle and reputable, DSHEA-compliant companies can’t be expected to police the entire industry,” says Greene. “This is a more ethical stance we can take with our customers to say, ‘We care more about your safety than your money.’ ”
Max Muscle is happy to sell the reformulated 1MR, a popular preworkout product from BPI close on the heels of category-leading Jack3d from USPlabs. BPI stripped out “geranium” ingredients after a product recall this June by Health Canada. In detailed and explicit language, Health Canada also issued a report classifying DMAA as a drug, subject to that country’s stricter regulations. Furthermore, this report cites the infamous Ping study out of China’s Guizhou Institute of Technology as flawed and lacking in credibility. Also this summer, a class-action lawsuit surfaced in New Jersey charging VPX with fraudulent marketing of its Liquid Clenbutrx Hardcore product as containing apple geranium leaves standardized to 1,3 DMAA. The suit alleges that DMAA is not a dietary ingredient at all, but a synthetic compound that “has not been found to exist naturally in any plant.”
Which brings us to the plant experts. In July, the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) issued a trade requirement for the labeling of 1,3 DMAA, with member companies expected to comply by January 13, 2012. It’s worth noting here that those member companies include such retail heavyweights as GNC and Bodybuilding.com. “We said, ‘Thou shalt not label DMAA as geranium,’ ” says Michael McGuffi n, AHPA’s president. “We’ve been talking about this for a while, ever since we formed our sports nutrition subcommittee, and this is one of the fi rst topics we decided to confront.” Early announcements from the association included reference to that controversial Ping study, which prompted quick response from two chemists claiming preliminary evidence of a link between DMAA and geranium. AHPA’s review of that study and the outcome of those chemists’ efforts remain uncertain at this time. McGuffin does note, however, that even with sounder science linking the ingredient to a botanical source, the economics of extracting geranium oil in parts per million for a retail product at effi cacious doses creates challenges, and FDA’s recent NDI guidance also throws the entire prospect of selling synthetic versions of botanicals into question.
For final word on the topic, Anthony Almada, MSc, FISSN, of GENR8 offers the following prediction for 1,3 DMAA over the next six months: “I forecasted a mushroom-cloud event back in March. That hasn’t happened yet, but the product recalls in Canada are close. Over the next few months, we will see more companies drop 1,3 from their product compositions. We will see as many as five more global athletes, including a high-profile athlete, popped for this agent. With the 2012 Summer Olympics in London fast approaching, it’s a big year to be failing drug tests.”