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Top FDA Officials have Ties to Supplement Industry

Apr 15, 2015

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) lenient regulation of dietary supplements has been a growing issue in light of safety concerns. Recently, the New York Times reported that the issue may stem from the fact that top FDA officials have conflicts of interest. Recent safety concerns involve the presence of BMPEA, a substance similar to amphetamine. The chemical is added to weight-loss supplements in attempt to boost their effect, but it is unknown whether it actually works. There have never been safety or efficacy tests of BMPEA in humans, according to NYT.

The FDA was the first to investigate BMPEA in supplements listing the plant acacia rigidula as an ingredient. NYT reports that adding a little-known plant ingredient is often a sign that manufacturers are trying to cover up the presence of a chemical additive. Out of 21 samples tested by the FDA, nine contained BMPEA. However, the FDA did not identify which products contained the substance.

Despite being aware of the BMPEA in popular supplements, the FDA never recalled the products or alert the public about the issue. Canadian health authorities, on the other hand, recalled JetFuel Superburn after it was found to contain BMPEA. The country's health regulators also issued a public health alert.

An NYT op-ed article states that these issues largely stem from Dr. Daniel Fabricant, who headed FDA's division of dietary supplement programs in early 2011 after holding a senior position at the Natural Products Association. In the spring of 2014, he returned to the association as chief executive. At the FDA, Fabricant was replaced by Cara Welch, who also came from the Natural Products Association. Both Fabricant and Welch were slow to act on BMPEA.

Dr. Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, took issue with the FDA's lack of action, and conducted his own research along with other academics. In a recently published study, they found that 11 of 21 products listing acacia rigidula as an ingredient were found to contain BMPEA. Dr. Cohen and his colleagues urged for a recall of supplements containing BMPEA.

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