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Higenamine in Supplements

Higenamine is a stimulant with unknown safety and potential cardiovascular risks.

Less than two years after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) added higenamine to its list of banned substances in sport, an international team of public health researchers published a study documenting inaccurately labeled and potentially harmful levels of the stimulant higenamine in weight-loss and sports/energy supplements available in the United States. Based on the findings, the researchers are urging consumers to use caution when consuming supplements labeled as containing higenamine. The research was published in the peer-reviewed journal Clinical Toxicology.

The Research

The independent study was conducted by researchers at NSF, Harvard Medical School and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) in the Netherlands. The researchers studied 24 products labeled as containing higenamine or the synonyms “norcoclaurine” or “demethylcoclaurine” and found unpredictable and potentially harmful quantities of the stimulant ranging from trace levels to 62 mg per serving.

Of the 24 products tested, only five listed a specific quantity of higenamine on the label, and none of those five quantities were accurate. Based on the directions for use, consumers could be exposed to up to 110 mg of higenamine per day. The health risks of higenamine remain poorly understood, but as a beta-2 agonist, it has been prohibited from sport by WADA, and therefore poses a risk to competitive athletes’ careers.

What You Should Do

Some of these products contain extremely high doses of higenamine, a stimulant with unknown safety and potential cardiovascular risks when consumed. Beyond the doping risk for athletes, from the study it is evident there is no way for a consumer to know how much higenamine is actually in the product they are taking. Consumers should seek NSF certified dietary supplements to avoid unintentionally consuming harmful compounds.

Dietary Supplement Certification

NSF facilitated the development of the only American National Standard for dietary supplements (NSF/ANSI 173). NSF’s accredited dietary supplement certification program is based on this standard (ANSI-Accredited Product Certification Body - Accreditation #0216). The program includes a label and formulation review, testing to verify the supplement does not contain harmful levels of contaminants and two facility audits each year to confirm compliance to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs). Products certified to the stringent Certified for Sport® program include additional steps to screen supplements for 280 athletic banned substances.

NSF’s dietary supplement and Certified for Sport® certification programs help retailers, consumers and athletes to make more educated buying decisions knowing that what is on the label matches what is in the container and that the products do not contain any unintended substances. The NSF program is used by the MLB, NHL, NFL, PGA, LPGA, CFL and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport.

The results of this collaborative testing project were published in Clinical Toxicology in an article co-authored by NSF Senior Research Scientist John Travis, Synthetic Chemist Frederick E. Boyer, Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Pieter Cohen, and Peter H. J. Keizers and Bastiaan Venhuis from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands (RIVM).

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