Unlabeled stimulant BMPEA in sports supplement combined with exercise likely caused stroke

May 11, 2015, American College of Physicians
Micrograph showing cortical pseudolaminar necrosis, a finding seen in strokes on medical imaging and at autopsy. H&E-LFB stain. Credit: Nephron/Wikipedia

β-Methylphenylethylamine (BMPEA), an amphetamine-like stimulant that has been found in dietary supplements marketed to improve athletic performance and weight loss, could be to blame for hemorrhagic stroke in a patient who took the supplement before completing a vigorous workout. The case report, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, is the first to suggest a connection between BMPEA and exercise-induced stroke.

The female patient, who was previously healthy and in good physical condition, reported sudden onset of numbness and clumsiness in her left hand that started 45 minutes after beginning her regular, vigorous workout routine. The patient reported taking the supplement, Jacked Power, as directed on the label shortly before exercising. The researchers analyzed the patient's supplement in the lab and found it contained a high dose of the stimulant, BMPEA, which was not listed in the product ingredients.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers that BMPEA, a synthetic compound with unknown health effects in humans, is sometimes sold as if it were a natural compound found in the shrub Acacia rigidula. In this case, neither BMPEA nor Acacia rigidula was listed on the supplement label.

The report's lead author, Pieter Cohen, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and a practicing general internist at Cambridge Health Alliance, says that consumers and physicians should be on high alert.

"Dietary supplements can legally be sold to improve workouts even when there is zero evidence that they actually work in humans," said Dr. Cohen. "This creates a perverse incentive for manufacturers to introduce untested drugs into sports supplements to achieve the advertised effect. Tragically, untested stimulants can pose serious health risks to unsuspecting consumers."

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