MHRA warns over unlicensed sports supplements

The UK drugs watchdog is warning athletes and gym-goers to steer clear of potentially dangerous unlicensed medicines masquerading as sports supplements.

The call forms part of a week-long awareness campaign launched by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, and follows reports that "a significant number" of sports supplement products containing the potentially dangerous chemical DMAA (also known as methylhexanamine) continue to be found on sale in the UK despite being banned.

DMAA, which is named on the World Anti-Doping Agency's Prohibited List, is banned in sports competitions and is not authorised for sale in the UK but can still be found in unlicensed medicines marketed as sports supplements.

The amphetamine-like stimulant, which has a variety of alternative names, has been linked with high blood pressure, tightening in the chest, strokes, heart attacks and even death. One of the most high-profile cases linked to the drug was of 30-year-old Claire Squires who died during the London Marathon in 2012 after taking the chemical.

Last year, the MHRA took urgent action to remove a number of DMAA-tainted products from the market.

Dr Chris Jones, MHRA Medicines Borderline Section Manager, said the sale of products containing DMAA had reduced since 2012, when DMAA was banned by the MHRA and removed from sale, but "any companies selling this unlicensed medicine is one company too many" and the MHRA would take "robust action" if any suspect products were identified.

In August last year, the MHRA carried out a review of unauthorised medicines being marketed as sports supplements and found a reduction of almost 50% compared with a similar study carried out in 2012. Last year's review revealed that 69 unauthorised medicines were being sold as sports supplements with 16 companies identified as selling one or more unauthorised medicines. This is compared with 128 unauthorised medicines and 36 websites prior to the 2012 London Olympics.

The DMAA Week of Action, between 30 January and 5 February, is part of the FakeMeds campaign that highlights the pitfalls of buying unlicensed medicines online. It is being supported by several organisations and includes an animated social media campaign, as well as videos and blogs by high-profile athletes, including Team GB Olympic weightlifters.

Ashley Metcalfe, chief executive of British Weight Lifting, said it was important that weightlifters were aware of the dangers of taking anything that could be potentially harmful. "We are proud to support this campaign and hope that it encourages lifters that wish to use sports supplements to choose only those that are properly regulated, and remain well-informed about the dangers of using unlicensed medicines."

Dr Adam Carey, chair of the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance, said DMAA had no place in legitimate sports nutrition supplements and urged all sportspeople to "avoid it at all costs" by making sure they purchase supplements from reputable retailers.

A dedicated email has been set up by the MHRA to report any suspect products:

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