Apparently, I am lucky to be alive. That is, at least, according to the paramount health authority in the United States: the Pentagon.
News came out this month that the military has forced GNC and other vitamin stores operating on military bases to stop selling dietary supplements that contain DMAA, also known as dimethylamylamine. They made this decision after two soldiers died from heart attacks last year during fitness exercises. Both had DMAA in their systems.
Dietary supplements fall within the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration, which has not placed any limitation on the sale of products containing DMAA. Meanwhile, products with DMAA are very popular among fitness enthusiasts, bodybuilders, and soldiers because they provide intense sensations of energy and focus that are comparable to drinking two to three cups of coffee.
You only need to search YouTube for "Jack3D," the best known DMAA product, to find dozens of testimonials from users who have gained muscle and lost weight while using the supplement. Having used Jack3D semi-regularly over the past year, I can personally attest to DMAA's effectiveness, as well the unlikelihood of it causing any significant side effects to those who take the recommended dose of a little under 1.5 teaspoons.
The entire basis of the Defense Department's rash decision rests on these two isolated incidents. This is despite the fact that no one has said definitively that these two deaths were caused by DMAA. In fact, the military has said the exact opposite, with the director of Health Policy Services for the Army Surgeon General telling reporters that "no link between DMAA and the medical conditions reported by military medical providers has been validated scientifically by us."
If the products are that popular among members of the military, logic would dictate that many soldiers regularly have it in their system. And the mere presence of DMAA certainly doesn't mean that those who died were using the product responsibly as directed. As journalist Christopher Snowdon, the author of The Art of Suppression, wrote recently on his blog: "They may have taken absurd quantities, or they may have taken something else as well, or it may all be a coincidence. Coincidence can certainly not be ruled out when a product is so widely consumed—indeed, it would be remarkable if there were not coincidences."
If this product were as dangerous as the military contends, wouldn't we be hearing from many more people, and wouldn't other government agencies be rushing to get involved? So far, the Pentagon stands alone.
And the Pentagon must not be too concerned, because they haven't instructed any solders to stop taking Jack3D. Troops can still buy the products off base, or even have it delivered from an online store. The Pentagon only played big brother by requiring GNC and other retailers to take a safe, legal product off its shelves on base.
The Army Surgeon General will walk a dangerous path if it starts making its own decisions about what is safe or healthy on military bases. Certainly, alcohol has contributed to the deaths of service members. Should we ban beer? Are cigarettes next? What about the Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King outposts?
Our military leaders should focus on their mission, and not micromanaging the diets and exercise regimens of the troops. And they certainly shouldn't be weighing in on issues where they lack both the expertise and any real evidence to support their decision.
Gregory Conley is a director of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, and a JD / MBA candidate at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey.