A weight loss pill containing a banned ingredient that has been linked to deaths is still available under the counter at health shops.
Oxy Elite Pro, described as a fat burner, contains the organic compound 1,3-dimethylamylamine, or DMAA.
Originally developed as a nasal decongestant, the compound is claimed to boost workout performance, making the pill popular with people keen to lose weight.
Health officials in the United States and some European countries have banned supplements containing DMAA, warning that side effects include raised blood pressure that can lead to cardiovascular problems and possible heart attacks.
Amin Al Amiri, assistant secretary for medical practice and licensing at the Ministry of Health, said products containing DMAA had not been allowed into the UAE.
Staff at a number of nutrition and health-food shops in Dubai said Oxy Elite Pro was taken off the shelves because of health concerns.
“We don’t sell this product as it was banned a couple of months ago,” said an assistant at Dr Nutrition in Dubai Mall.
“I advise people to take herbal supplements instead as they are more helpful.”
An employee at Nutrition Zone said they had also stopped selling the product containing the old formula.
“We don’t sell that any more because of the ban,” she said. “We are currently out of stock of the newer version of the product with DMAA taken out.”
But Oxy Elite Pro was still available under the counter at another outlet, costing Dh185 a container.
“The old formula is by far the most popular fat burner we have because it is so fast acting,” said a member of staff. “Although it is banned we are selling it for people who ask.
“We just sold our last bit of stock but we can get a new supply in about 24 hours.”
He said customers handed over their mobile numbers and listed how many items they wanted and he found them.
The employee claimed that, if used correctly, Oxy Elite Pro was safe.
“The product was banned because people were not following the instructions,” he said.
“If you stick to two capsules a day you will be fine.
“The problem was that people were taking more than four. The DMAA boosts your heart rate, so if you take more then there is a risk of a heart attack.”
Marti Susane, a body composition and fitness coach in Dubai, warned people against taking weight-loss pills.
“I’ve taken fat burners before, although not Oxy Elite Pro, and stopped because of the side effects,” she said.
Ms Susane took the supplements for three months three years ago to help get her lean for a fitness competition.
“Long-term use of these kinds of pills can wreck your metabolism,” she said.
“I ended up having heart palpitations, couldn’t sleep and felt jittery.”
She advises her clients not to take supplements but instead eat healthily and exercise.
There is also some debate as to whether the pills actually work or if people who use them experience a placebo effect, Ms Susane said.
The makers of Oxy Elite Pro, USPlabs, voluntarily destroyed US$8 million worth of products containing DMAA in July, including Oxy Elite Pro and the pre-workout booster Jack3d, following legal action by the United States Food and Drugs Administration.
The agency warned that the compound, in combination with caffeine, could pose a health risk.
“Ingestion of DMAA can elevate blood pressure and lead to cardiovascular problems, ranging from shortness of breath and tightening in the chest to heart attack,” the FDA said.
DMAA has also been banned in Australia and New Zealand.
The US defence department banned the sale of Jack3d on military bases after the 2011 deaths of two soldiers who had been using the supplement.
In January, a British coroner looking into the case of Claire Squires, 30, who died at last year’s London Marathon, said that on the balance of probabilities, DMAA together with extreme physical exertion caused her to suffer a fatal heart attack. She had taken Jack3d before the run.