Synephrine, octopamine: limits, doping and natural sourcing

According to Nutraingredients USA, Health Canada is going to revise its 2011 p-synephrine guideline increasing the daily amount “‘likely to cause any adverse health consequences’ from 30 mg per day to 50 mg per day. The 30 mg maximum allowable dose applied to the sum of p-synephrine and octopamine. Sources of the substance included Citrus species such as C. aurantium, as well as certain species of some other genera (e.g. Evodia rutaecarpa), and synthetic sources. A number of warnings and other conditions of use were identified by the 2011 guidelines.

A sample of similar EU guidelines indicates that Italy has a limit for synephrine, irregardless of chirality but requiring natural origin and sourcing from C. aurantium subps. amara, of 30 mg per day, and a mandatory warning measure has not been approved at EU level). UK’s MHRA states that synephrine is to be considered medicinal , and thus not allowed in supplements, though naturally present synephrine appears to be allowed in food supplements in the UK and elsewhere.

Synephrine is of particular interest (and concern) to segments of the sports nutrition and food supplement industry as it can be sourced naturally, though it also appears in the WADA list of doping substances. As a consequence, athletes cannot ingest products with synephrine and it has to be determined at country level whether  C. aurantium subps. amara with synephrine content are permitted under national law and practices. Warnings may be considered, again at national level, to inform athletes.

A similar situation occurs with octopamine, though allowed levels have not been set in most countries and it appears to be naturally present in very low levels.

More generally, in the EU context, the natural source of the extracts is of particular relevance, with synthetic versions normally clashing with the Novel Foods Regulation; this applies to extracts not only synephrine and octopamine, that are regulated under doping (if it exists) or medicinal legislation, but to dozens of other molecules. It is increasingly reported that substances presented as natural are in fact of synthetic origin, either because the substance is truly absent in the plant (an apparent case of scientific and technical fraud), because it is available in nature but in minute quantities, or because of costs. Companies should be aware of the difference betwen natural and synthetic, ensure that they have the skill to evaluate and test their supply, and recognize that analytical methods to discriminate between natural and synthetic are increasingly reliable and available to enforcement bodies.

– Sports Nutrition Team –

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