Why Using a Synthetic Protein Powder Can Sabotage Your Goals and Damage Your Health
For the modern fitness enthusiast, protein powders have become a diet staple — and so much of a commodity that you’ll likely find them in (just about) anyone’s cupboard. From whey to casein, eggs, and a variety of vegan sources, the protein powder supplements of today have come a long way since their inception in the 1930s.
But not all protein powders are created equal. Walk up and down the health food aisle in your local supermarket and you’ll be faced with an overwhelming assortment of products, each presenting you with different formulations, amino acid profiles, and flavour options.
And to enhance their marketing appeal, many manufacturers choose to add stimulants, such as caffeine and DMAA, to their formulations, which serve to increase their overall potency and stimulate athletic performance.
Wondering what DMAA is? Here’s all you need to know — from how it’s produced to its mechanism of action and potential health risks.
What Is DMAA?
DMAA, short for dimethylamylamine, is a synthetically produced neural stimulant most commonly used in dietary supplements to increase weight loss and improve athletic performance. DMAA is an aliphatic amine with a chemical structure similar to amphetamine that can cause spikes of energy similar to caffeine — only, with more potential risks to your health.
DMAA was originally introduced in 1948 as an effective nasal decongestant under the trade name of Forthane, only to be withdrawn in 1970. Its alleged presence in geranium extract has led to its reintroduction and remarketing as a natural supplement, but a growing body of research suggests that this is not the case. A 2012 study has examined eight different commercial geranium extracts of different geographical origins, but no DMAA was detected. Another study reported DMAA concentrations in geranium plants from the Changzhou region of China. And while this might appear to support the claims that DMAA could be a natural product extract, we’ve got some bad news — the amounts are totally negligible (if they even exist)
Reported concentrations of DMAA ranged from 68 to 496 ng/g, whereas a minimum dosage of 20mg-30mg is required to be effective. The takeaway? It would take quite a lot of geranium plants to extract enough DMAA, which is why manufacturers choose to produce it synthetically.
How Does DMAA Work?
While the mechanism of action is currently unknown, most researchers agree that DMAA stimulates noradrenaline (norepinephrine) release in the brain, which activates the body’s fight-or-flight response. As such, the adrenal glands pump noradrenaline into the blood, which in turn increases blood pressure, heart rate, and blood flow to skeletal muscle tissue. Increased levels of noradrenaline in the body correlate with improved focus, alertness, motivation, and reaction time, as well as higher energy levels. Not to mention noradrenaline also stimulates the release of glucose from the body’s glycogen stores, which is used to power your muscles during exercise.
It's a Constant Game of Whack-a-Mole — Literally
No doubt, DMAA seems like the holy grail ingredient in your protein powder supplement. Well, it isn’t — and here’s why.
DMAA May Cause Cardiovascular Problems
Sure, noradrenaline can get your blood pumping and your heart pounding, but too much of it can get your blood pressure and heart rate dangerously high. But it’s not just the elevated levels of noradrenaline that can wreak havoc in your cardiovascular system. DMAA is well known as a vasoconstrictor — in other words, it narrows blood vessels and arteries. This, too, raises blood pressure and causes shortness of breath, tightening in the chest, arrhythmias, and possibly heart attack, as well as seizures.
Many protein powder supplements are formulated with both DMAA and caffeine — a combination that, while certainly effective, presents a major risk to your health and well-being. Caffeine is reasonably safe when taken in doses of up to 400mg per day — the equivalent of four cups of brewed coffee. But when used in conjunction with DMAA, it becomes dangerous. As a stimulant, caffeine causes heart problems, anxiety, dizziness, dehydration, and even digestive problems. In other words, you’re twice as likely to suffer from cardiovascular problems in the long run.
DMAA on the label? Just. Say. No.
DMAA Damages the Liver
In 2013, 36 people taking a dietary supplement containing DMAA required hospitalisation for acute hepatitis and hepatic failure. Of these, there were two reported cases of liver transplant and one death. According to the Harvard Public Health Review, the Epidemiologists from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also found that nearly a hundred people in 16 US states taking a supplement with DMAA have developed hepatitis. As much as forty-seven required hospitalisation; three needed liver transplants; and one — a mother of seven — died.
Needless to say, you do need a healthy liver. Not just to help absorb all of those nutrients from your protein powder supplement, but also to, you know, live.
DMAA May Lead to Brain Bleeding
As if cardiovascular problems and liver damage weren’t enough reason to avoid DMAA, here’s one more — this drug might lead to brain bleeding. There have been at least 3 reports of brain bleeding after taking a dietary supplement containing DMAA. The scariest part? One of them occurred after the victim consumed the recommended dose of the dietary supplement in question.
In 2012, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) banned the sale, supply, and use of DMAA and has listed it in Schedule 9 of the Poisons Standard. As a result, many supplement manufacturers have chosen alternatives such as DMHA (octodrine) and DMBA (dimethylbutylamine). While not as potent or dangerous as DMAA, both DMHA and DMBA are synthetically produced and come with their own set of side effects and health risks — and both have been banned by the TGA earlier this year.
Don’t Sabotage Your Goals
Be wary of any protein powder supplement containing DMAA or DMAA alternatives. While you may notice an improvement in your fitness performance, taking DMAA essentially sets you up for major health problems in the long run. Instead, choose a quality vegan protein powder, such as White Wolf Nutrition’s All-in-One Protein, which brings you 22.2 grams of protein per 30-gram serving, sourced from non-GMO superior organic Belgian golden-yellow peas with no additives or synthetics. And if you’re one for great flavour, worry not — White Wolf Nutrition’s All-in-One Protein is sweetened with organic Australian stevia and flavoured with natural ingredients. No gluten, additives, or synthetics.