The research supplements delivered only .01 percent of the advertised amount of the stimulant but others contained 200 percent more. People don’t know how toxic higenamine may be above certain quantities, Pieter Cohen, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School, tells Inverse. He John Travis, a senior research scientist at NSF International are lead authors on a paper that describes the study’s findings.
“We found that the consumer has no way of figuring out how much higenamine is in a supplement other than a label and the levels were widely variable,” Cohen says. “So in other words, even if we had the research to demonstrate that higenamine works, there would be no way to replicate that with the supplements sold in the United States because of the lack of information about what’s actually in them.”
How Does Higenamine Affect a Work-Out?
Generally, higenamine seems to affect the heart by increasing it’s ejection fraction — a percentage of blood the heart can pump out each time it contracts. Normally, endurance training can increase the ejection fraction — creating an efficient heart that can catapult a runner across the finish line or a cyclist to a mountaintop.
“Higenamine would make a lot of sense in sports context,” Cohen says. “If you have a compound that can make the heart beat faster and stronger, which we think higenamine can do, then it would be feasible to think that it could improve athletic performance.”
It’s not a replacement for hours of hard work — few drugs are — but preliminary studies indicate that it does increase heart rate in a way that could have training benefits or even therapeudic effects. For instance, one study showed that a 2.5mg dose of higenamine could increase an ejection fraction by roughly 14 percent in 15 patients with heart disease.
This may be a tempting offer, but it comes at a high price. Toxicity aside, even trace amounts of higenamne can sideline athletes because of NCAA and WADA bans, and the FDA is currently reviewing the findings of Cohen’s paper.