Some of the rising stars in this supplement category include products formulated with Acacia rigidula, the extract from a shrub that is native to the areas between South Texas and Central Mexico. The extract from the leaves of this plant reportedly increases energy, suppresses one’s appetite and burns fat.
Recent studies, however, indicate that almost half of the products with Acacia rigidula listed as an ingredient actually didn’t contain any of this botanical extract. The intriguing mystery is that these weight loss and performance enhancement products performed as intended!
Herbal remedies and supplements are not well regulated by the FDA and, because of that, some less reputable manufacturers may distribute products with formulas that are not consistent with the labeled ingredients. I’m definitely a believer in certain herbal remedies and use a couple of them to great benefit, but I caution you to research the manufacturer’s history and reputation before consuming their products.
So why did these supplement products perform as expected? What made them work? Scientific testing indicated that in many cases Acacia rigidula was substituted with beta-methylphenethylamine (BMPEA for short).
A recent study published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis discussed this fact. Although FDA scientists conducted the study, it’s interesting to note that, at the time of this writing, no consumer alerts have been issued. The researchers felt certain, however, that the presence of BMPEA was probably NOT an accidental contaminant since chemical analyses of Acacia rigidula plants indicate that there is very low natural abundance of any phenethylamine compounds within them.
BMPEA is a synthetic substance (formulated in a lab) and it is chemically similar to amphetamine, a powerful stimulant and a highly controlled prescription drug. Twenty-one products that claimed to be manufactured with Acacia rigidula were sampled. Ten showed to contain BMPEA instead.
The potential for injury with indiscriminate use of BMPEA is great. In one physician’s experience while studying 85 patients with liver disease, two-thirds were middle-aged women using supplements to lose weight or to increase energy. Nearly a dozen of those patients required a liver transplant and three of them died.
Statistics coming out of Spain indicate that indiscriminate use of amphetamine-like stimulant compounds is the second most common cause of acute hepatitis in those under the age of 25.
As a murder mystery writer, the erroneous labeling of the above-mentioned products provides a great opportunity for development of sinister story arcs. As I often state in my blogs, substances that have expected benefits can also have detrimental effects if used or formulated improperly. The villains in your stories could familiarize themselves with the injurious and lethal effects of these substances and look for opportunities to do harm.
Imagine the resulting symptoms of spiking a victim’s food or drink with adulterated weight loss products to the point of overdose. There would certainly be unexplained increases in body temperature and blood pressure, agitation, and mood or behavioral changes to the point of being overly aggressive and possibly obsessive. Stimulant product abuse has lethal potential and liver failure is often the cause of death.
As I’ve said before: Imagination + A Little Truth + Opportunity + A Substance with Both Beneficial and Adverse Effects = Murder!
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!