CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa -- The embattled fitness supplement DMAA posed elevated health risks for tens of thousands of military users, but it did not play a significant role in the deaths of four servicemembers who were known to be using the product, according to a Department of Defense safety probe.
The DOD surveyed more than 1,700 servicemembers and found those who suffered multiple heat injuries, seizures, brain hemorrhages or other serious health problems were twice as likely to have used DMAA as those with a single injury. Still, the safety probe determined the risk posed by the popular amphetamine-like substance is low.
DMAA, also known as methylhexanamine, emerged on the fitness supplement market several years ago as a way to increase energy and intensity during workouts but has effectively been banned in the United States over the past year amid safety concerns.
Military exchanges pulled 17 different DMAA products from its shelves in late 2011 following deaths and reports of serious injuries. Three soldiers at Fort Bliss, Texas, died after taking the stimulant and training. Another servicemember stationed in the Pacific collapsed and died after an eight-mile run, according to the DOD probe.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned supplement makers to halt production of DMAA products in 2012 and finally pressured the manufacturer USPlabs and retailer General Nutrition Centers to destroy stocks of DMAA products in July.
Following the deaths, the Defense Department conducted a safety investigation, and its report -- released in June -- recommended that the sale of any DMAA products should remain banned on U.S. military installations due to the elevated risk of death, heat injury, irregular heartbeat, seizures, muscle breakdown, brain hemorrhage or kidney failure.
"The panel judged that the evidence supports sufficient risk, even if very low, of another death or catastrophic illness of a servicemember who has used DMAA-containing products, without any offsetting benefit of these products," according to the report. The panel was chaired by Col. John J. Lammie, director of Health Policy Services at the Office of the Surgeon General of the Army.
The probe found no connection between DMAA use and single instances of injury. The Armed Forces Medical Examiner System investigated the four deaths and determined DMAA "did not play a significant role."
But servicemembers who took DMAA were twice as likely to have multiple injuries, and the risk to long-term users -- more than 80 days of continued dosing -- was 3.5 times higher than for non-users.
Overall, the DOD found that up to 15 percent of servicemembers may have been taking DMAA products and that there was a low risk of harm for most healthy users at recommended doses.
"However, there does appear to be a significant association of DMAA use, particularly high frequency DMAA use, and multiple adverse events," the panel’s report concluded.
GNC issued a statement this week saying the DOD safety review cleared DMAA supplements of causing injuries and death.
"GNC is delighted that the military’s review of DMAA products validated what we already knew; namely, that products containing DMAA do not cause adverse medical events," Chairman, President and CEO Joseph Fortunato said in the prepared statement.