The Defense Department's Human Performance Resource Center is warning troops that DMAA, an ingredient found in some workout supplements banned by federal regulators in 2013, remains widely available online.
Nearly 40 supplements containing 1,3 dimethlyamylamine, sometimes called "geranium extract," can be purchased through online retailers, according to the center.
Roughly a quarter of those products are made by Georgia-based Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals, which has filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration, alleging it illegally seized products containing DMAA in 2013 and failed to take the legal steps required to restrict the substance.
The government contends that DMAA is an unapproved food additive, and because the FDA considers it unsafe, the agency acted legally in banning it and confiscating products containing the ingredient, since those products are considered "adulterated."
While the suit makes its way through the judicial system — a judge in April denied the government's motion to dismiss — some DMAA products remain available online.
"Many [products with DMAA] are still being produced (or produced again), and some are even new," HPRC officials stated in a news release. "That means it's very important to read dietary supplement product labels carefully to make sure yours doesn't contain this potentially dangerous ingredient."
Originally developed and sold as a nasal decongestant, DMAA is advertised as a fat-burner or body-sculpting product. It is known to elevate blood pressure and can cause health problems ranging from heart attacks to shortness of breath, the FDA says.
Before it sent warning letters requiring manufacturers to remove DMAA products from the market, the FDA had received 86 reports of illnesses or death associated with the substance.
However, these "adverse event reports" indicate only that a patient either developed symptoms or died after or while using the product — and does not necessarily mean the ingredient was responsible for the illness or injury.
The Defense Department removed DMAA products from military exchanges and on-base GNC stores out of concern it may have contributed to the deaths of at least two soldiers who suffered heart attacks during physical training.
After the deaths and several other incidents involving DMAA, defense officials launched a two-year review of the ingredient that concluded there was insufficient evidence to prove it caused the service members' deaths.
But the authors of the review also agreed that the ingredient posed enough of a health risk to keep it off the shelves of military stores.
DMAA is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency and its use is strongly discouraged among service members.
According to the HRPC website, the FDA's declaration of DMAA as illegal for use as a dietary supplement ingredient specifically means "service members should not use dietary supplement products that contain it."
The families of the two troops who died, Pvt. Michael Sparling and Sgt. Demekia Cola, filed lawsuits against GNC and USPLabs, the manufacturer of Jack3d, OxyElite Pro and other products containing DMAA. A jury trial has been postponed in the Sparling case until 2016; the mother of Demekia Cola reached a settlement with USPLabs on July 13.
Muhammed Islam, CEO of Total Body Nutrition, marketers for 1,3 D Bomb, a product that hails itself as the "most potent 1,3 dimethylamylamine available," said he is breaking no laws by selling a pure DMAA powder online, because "it is pure and not actually 'adulterating' any product."
He said that as with any substance that is ingested, it should be consumed with caution.
"If you consume a lot of anything, you can get sick. If you eat too much chicken, you would be sick," Islam said. "I can see people in the military thinking, 'I'm in the military, I can handle it.' But it must be taken carefully."
But HPRC officials say troops should steer clear of DMAA altogether, since the FDA considers it illegal and "DoD follows federal policy with regard to the use and possession of substances and products considered illegal."
"Not only could it be dangerous to your health, it could also be dangerous to your military career," HPRC officials wrote on their website. "Keep in mind, though, that pre-workout, weight-loss or other performance dietary supplements without DMAA also may not be safe for your health."
Patricia Kime is a senior writer covering military and veterans health care, medicine and personnel issues.