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Why higenamines can endanger health
When people take supplements with an active ingredient called higenamine, it can affect their health. One problem with such supplements is that it is often difficult to tell how much higenamine is in a single pill. This can lead to ingestion of dangerously high concentrations of the herbal active ingredient.
In their current investigation, scientists from NSF International and employees of the internationally respected Harvard Medical School found that taking dietary supplements with higenamines can harm health. The experts published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Clinical Toxicology".
How was the study carried out?
For their study, the researchers examined 24 brands of nutritional supplements that are available in the United States and contain so-called higenamines. Many of these products are marketed as a means of losing weight or increasing athletic performance. The doctors tested the chemical composition of the pills and used two different laboratories to analyze two samples from each brand separately.
How much higenamine did the subjects take daily?
All of the products examined contained some higenamine, but the amount varied greatly from sample to sample. Based on the samples, people have taken from tiny trace amounts of higenamine to more than 100 milligrams a day. The instructions on the respective label of the products were followed. Only five products really contained the amount of higenamine shown on the label, as determined by analysis of the samples. In the products tested, the actual amount of higenamine was between 0.001 percent and 200 percent of the stated amount, the scientists explain.
Dosage information was extremely imprecise
While higenamine is considered a legal nutritional component when it is a component of phytochemicals, researchers see nutritional supplements as a health risk due to the extremely inaccurate dosage information, according to study author John Travis of NSF International. NSF International is a long-established so-called non-profit organization based in Michigan, which carries out tests and examinations of consumer goods, including nutritional supplements. The company also offers independent certification and standards for various industries.
Higenamine mainly affects the heart
Higenamines come from various plants, including aconite. The authors say that higenamines have recently been sold in food supplements and drinks to promote athletic performance. In contrast to homeopathic products, these higenamine variants mainly affect the heart. This made it a popular tool for professional athletes looking for a legal competitive advantage. But in 2017, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) officially banned its use.
The dangers of higenamine are largely unknown
Given that some dietary supplements have poor composition information, athletes might accidentally take higenamines, which would seriously jeopardize their careers, the experts explain. In addition, the dangers of higenamine are practically unknown. The Food and Drug Administration has received reports of negative side effects of higenamine since 2014, the authors said.
How much higenamine harms health?
There has been little research, neither in humans nor in animals, to determine the risks of ingestion. It is not even really known how much higenamine is needed to harm health, although studies in China have found that as little as 2.5 milligrams (injected directly into the bloodstream) can speed up the heart. However, drugs that are taken orally tend to be less effective than when given intravenously, the experts explain.
Be careful when taking higenamine
Other plant-based stimulants, such as those found in ephedra (banned by the FDA in 2004), are known to trigger heart attacks and strokes in sufficient doses and sometimes even lead to coma or death of the users. Both competitive and amateur athletes as well as general consumers should think twice before taking a product that contains higenamine, Travis said. Scientists report that it is estimated that dietary supplements are responsible for a total of more than 23,000 visits to the emergency room in the United States alone each year. (as)