Bad news bodybuilders: dimethylamylamine (DMAA) may be responsible for the deaths of two soldiers, according to the U.S. Army. Eh, just another day and another story about a sports supplement gone wrong? Not for me. This story hit me hard. Probably because I have some DMAA in my cabinet as we speak.

You may not recognize DMAA by acronym alone but it’s also known as Asian geranium extract and it’s found in some of the most popular – and most effective – supplements on the market like J3cked (pronounced “jacked” in case you don’t want to look like an idiot in front of the GNC salesman like I did) and OxyElite Pro. I’ve taken both. While I hate J3cked and steer clear of it – it was part of the cocktail I took that, forgive me – jacked me up, and made me puke my way through a ten-mile race a year and a half ago – OxyElite Pro is a different story.

I don’t remember how I came by my first pill. Friends (and smart ones, even) of all fitness stripes – bodybuilders, racers, triathletes – swear by the stuff. Someone along the line gave me one and while it made me feel awful, it did really work for me. I had a ton of energy, I recovered faster, I could focus better and it didn’t give me that jagged high-then-crash that plain caffeine does. It also gave me heart palpitations, excessive sweating, hot flashes, whole body shakes and waves of nausea.

There’s a reason for all that: It’s an amphetamine derivative, deemed more potent than even ephedrine. You know what they make out of ephedrine? METH. You remember the scandal over ephedra/ma-huang killing people a decade ago? This stuff is five times more potent. In addition to being illegal in Canada and the European Union, “the World Anti-Doping Authority, the international body that regulates drug use by Olympic athletes, and several professional sports leagues have listed DMAA as a banned stimulant.” If I were an Olympic athlete I’d have been kicked out. Thank goodness I’m just a stupid suburban soccer mom! Phew, dodged that bullet!

While I liked the results, the side effects kept me from using it on a regular basis – I can’t even remember the last time I took one – but I kept the bottle around for those few occasions where I felt like I really needed the extra kick. Here’s the thing though: I didn’t know any of this when I bought it. I have more friends than I have fingers that use this stuff all the time and I’m pretty sure they don’t know either. How is it that I am allowed to walk into any GNC and buy amphetamines right off the shelf as a “sports supplement”? This blows my mind.

I remember the last time I bought a bottle of OxyElite Pro and the GNC guy commended me, telling me that in his opinion this was the best fat burner on the market. We went back and forth about the various uses for it and the side effects but never once did it come up that this wasn’t just some herbal caffeine-ish supp I was popping, like I thought. And USP Labs, the manufacturer, has all this research and science-y stuff on their site saying how safe and effective it is. Seriously how innocent does “geranium leaf” sound?

Yet the Army says in addition to “heart events,” it also has reports of liver and kidney failure, seizures, loss of consciousness, and rapid heartbeat from DMAA toxicity.

My bottle has 30 pills in it. I have 26 left. And since I only take one at a time (the recommended dosage is two in the morning, one in the afternoon but one alone made me feel so freaky I never dared take more) that means there were four occasions in the past year or so that I put my life – and my children’s mother’s life – on the line for the sake of some minor athletic enhancement.

I’m stupid. I’ll own it. I’m the one who bought the pills. But at the same time, I did my research. I read countless reviews online, peppered the salesman with questions and read everything that the manufacturer put out about it, including all the warnings, and I never got any sense of what this stuff really was. I actually thought I was doing the smart thing by going with something “natural” and avoiding all the crazy diet pills out there. Lesson learned: “natural” means nothing.

For their part, USP Labs released a statement saying that their product has been proven safe if taken correctly. And who knows how those soldiers were using it? My friends that use it seem less affected by it than I was. At least none of them have ever mentioned the shakiness or nausea like I had (although everyone seems to get the sweats).

Still, I’m angry. At them. At myself. At the salespeople. At the FDA that doesn’t monitor supplements. At the society that has programmed me to reject my unvarnished best. But mostly at myself.

The pills are in the trash now. I’m sticking with jelly beans from here on out. (Which, by the by, my most favoritest SweeTart jelly beans are now also being sold for Valentine’s day. Good news or bad news? Magic PMS ball says “yes.”)

So, anyone else used this stuff? What has your experience been? Am I being hysterical or does this scare the ever-loving crap out of you too? What are your “happy pills”?

around the web


  1. Pharmaceutical companies re-use drugs by adding new ingredients, rename the drug and POP out on the market it goes. There are so many drugs out over the counter that are not FDA approved. Go to your local drug store and look at the popular brands, check the main ingredients and Presto you will notice other non-brands have been reformulated. What folks don’t know is that we are human guinea pigs to these companies. Research what Viagra,Cocaine and Ecstacy was originally used for.

  2. OMG Becky!!!!!!!! I swear to God I just stopped using OxyElite Pro for 3 days now. I’ve been on it for 3 years. I fell into a deep depression after the birth of my first child. This pill made me feel like the future was bright and what ever problems I had would soon disappear. Never had a weight problem until the birth of my son. This stuff gave me the energy to power thru any and everything.

    I went into a health food store to price it. They were selling it for $60 bucks. I was like…WTF?????? I only pay $19.99 for this stuff. Why r u guys selling it for $60 bucks? She told me it was being reformulated. I was like…why…this stuff is magic.

    Now……going from a hardcore party girl to a stay@home mom was hard. I developed a gimmick habit……I know the stuff doesn’t work but I needed to get excited about something so I became a GNC, Vitamin Shoppe pill popper. I stopped @ OxyElite Pro.

    Much like the food, hells no I don’t know what I’m ingesting….but I’m hooked on the hype and I know it.

    But thank you for telling me…..cause the 10 o’clock news nor did anything on my FB newsfeed alert me to this danger.

  3. Had a scary experience yesterday, felt dizzy , weak and nauseated. Began to research “Dangers of oxyelite pro” online. Ran into a wealth of information on the substance believed to be most dangerous in it’s formulation, DMAA which also has about 10 other names. I will no longer be taking it. I will stick to L-carnitine, a nonessential and natural amino, for my fat burning purposes.

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