Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) on Friday asked the FTC to probe dietary supplements that are advertised to contain Acacia rigidula plant extracts.
The supplements have been found to contain BMPEA, a controversial substance that was recently the subject of FDA warning letters. Research published last month in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis identified BMPEA as an amphetamine-like substance that was being sold in a number of weight-loss and sports supplements. The researchers led by the physician Pieter Cohen of Harvard Medical School said the supplements were labeled as containing Acacia rigidula, a shrub native to Texas, “even though the stimulant has never been identified or extracted from" the plant.
“This potentially dangerous synthetic stimulant masquerading as an extract of A. rigidula poses a threat to the health and safety of consumers, and its deceptive marketing and mislabeling warrant strong enforcement action from the FTC," Blumenthal and Durbin wrote in a letter to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez.
FTC, which has jurisdiction to prevent deceptive practices, declined to comment.
The senators cited evidence that Acacia rigidula supplements are “deceptively advertised" and “mislabeled." They referenced an advertisement promoting Black Widow, a product that was described as an “Acacia rigidula extract." The senators cited Cohen’s research and a 2013 study by FDA scientists that showed “it is ‘nearly impossible’ for the amounts of BMPEA present in dietary supplements to be formulated from plant material or extracts of A. rigidula."
“These studies indicate to achieve the levels of BMPEA found in this product, the manufacturer could not have simply extracted it from A. rigidula," Blumenthal and Durbin declared in the letter. “It is deceptive to advertise BMPEA as being an extract of A. rigidula and may constitute a violation of truth-in-advertising laws."
Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals Inc., the manufacturer of Black Widow, on Friday did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company has insisted the substance is naturally occurring and refuted accusations that BMPEA-containing supplements are contaminated.
"We believe FDA is responding from pressure from outside sources like New York Senator Chuck Schumer and Dr. Cohen from Harvard," Hi-Tech said recently in an emailed statement, citing "a wealth of science on acacia species and their phenylethylamine alkaloids" dating back decades.
"The position of the FDA flies in the face of testing done over the past 60 years on acacia species," the company added.