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Experts caution over dietary supplement containing higenamine

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Dietary Supplements


Public health researchers have warned against taking weight-loss and sports/energy supplements containing higenamine, a potentially harmful cardiovascular stimulant. According to a new peer-reviewed published in the peer-reviewed journal Clinical Toxicology, the international researchers urged consumers to use caution when consuming supplements labeled as containing ‘higenamine’, which was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list of substances prohibited in sports.

The independent study was conducted by researchers at Global Public Health Organisation NSF International, Harvard Medical School and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) in the Netherlands.

The researchers studied 24 products labeled as containing higenamine or the synonyms “norcoclaurine” or “demethylcoclaurine” and found unpredictable and potentially harmful quantities of the stimulant ranging from trace levels to 62 mg per serving.

Of the 24 products tested, only five listed a specific quantity of higenamine on the label, and none of those five quantities were accurate. Based on the labeled directions for use, consumers could be exposed to up to 110 mg of higenamine per day.

The health risks of higenamine remain poorly understood, but as a beta-2 agonist, it has been prohibited from sport by the WADA, and therefore poses a risk to competitive athletes’ careers.

The Senior Research Scientist at NSF International, John Travis said: “We are urging competitive and amateur athletes, as well as general consumers, to think twice before consuming a product that contains higenamine.”Travis, who is also a co-author of the study added: “Beyond the doping risk for athletes, some of these products contain extremely high doses of a stimulant with unknown safety and potential cardiovascular risks when consumed. What we’ve learned from the study is that there is often no way for a consumer to know how much higenamine is actually in the product they are taking.”

The Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Internist at Cambridge Health Alliance, Dr Pieter Cohen, who is also a co-author of the study said some plants, such as ephedra, contain stimulants, in which if one takes too much of the stimulants found in ephedra, can have life-threatening consequences.

Cohen noted that, when it come to higenamine, which is a stimulant found in plants, “We don’t yet know for certain what effect high dosages will have in the human body, but a series of preliminary studies suggest that it might have profound effects on the heart and other organs.”

Meanwhile, it is estimated that dietary supplements lead to an estimated 23,000 emergency department visits each year in the United States, as weight loss and sports supplements contribute to a large portion of these emergency department visits.The research, they noted points to the need for independent testing and certification of dietary supplements, a public health service that NSF International provides.


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