What is dendrobium and why is it being used in dietary supplement products?
Dendrobium is a member of the nobile species of orchid and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for many centuries to treat thirst, fever, diabetes, infection, cancer, and eye problems and improve appetite and digestion. Dendrobium is now an ingredient in some pre-workout dietary supplements marketed to enhance physical or athletic performance. However, little evidence indicates that dendrobium is effective for this purpose.
Extracts from dendrobium contain the chemicals dendrobine, dendroxine, dendramine, and several others. Of these, dendrobine has pharmacologic effects that include analgesic (pain-killing) and anti-fever effects. There have been some claims that dendrobium extracts can contain phenylethylamines (PEAs), a type of stimulant that can have effects similar to those of amphetamines. So far, however, no reliable evidence indicates that PEAs occur naturally in any dendrobium species, which suggests some dendrobium-containing products may have been “spiked.”
In addition to the effects mentioned above, dendrobine taken in sufficient amounts can slow breathing and heart rate and cause an unsafe drop in blood pressure. If dendrobium nobile is part of a proprietary blend, there is no way to tell how much dendrobine is present without laboratory testing. Therefore, dendrobium as a dietary supplement ingredient may pose health risks, including convulsions, seizures, or low blood pressure. In addition, there is always a risk that dendrobium-containing products may contain ingredients not listed on the label and there is no way to know what is actually in any dietary supplement unless it is analyzed in a laboratory or has been third-party certified (please see the OPSS FAQ).