5 Performance Enhancers Sold on Amazon That Should Probably Be Illegal

A professional athlete would face a serious suspension if they got caught taking any of these, but hey, John Q. Public, knock yourself out
5 Performance Enhancers Sold on Amazon That Should Probably Be Illegal

In the world of fitness supplements, the fine line between a stern warning and an outright ban is the accumulation of a serious body count. Without the offending drug or hormone presenting a grave danger, everything is fair game, and the mere fact that an herb or drug might make someone bigger, stronger or faster may trigger a ban from the governing body of a sports league, but it will probably fail to elevate a supplement to the level of a purchasing ban. 

As such, there are several supplements that the Food and Drug Administration has published some strong opinions about, but has opted not to do anything to influence the legality of. This means that if you want to bully your local softball league with a reign of chemical-fueled terror that would cause the computers of the World Anti-Doping Agency to light up like a Christmas tree, you have the legal right to do so. To that end, here are five supplements you can easily purchase on Amazon right now that should probably be illegal…


When is a steroid apparently not a steroid? When it’s dehydroepiandrosterone, more commonly known as DHEA. There was little ambiguity about DHEA’s status as a problematic steroid back in the mid-1980s when the FDA began cracking down on it. At the time, it was primarily being marketed as an over-the-counter weight-loss supplement and sex-life enhancer. An FDA-enforced ban went into effect in 1985, but it remained available with a prescription for several years as scientists continued to test it. Apparently, they had fallen in love with this unique steroid, which was capable of being extracted from ordinary human urine. 

So how did DHEA eventually become the only steroid available for purchase without a prescription? Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who successfully pushed to spare DHEA from an all-encompassing steroid ban, declaring that DHEA was entitled to a special exemption as an anti-aging drug. Suspiciously, Hatch’s son was a lobbyist for the National Nutritional Foods Association, which represented the manufacturer of DHEA.

In practice, DHEA behaves in a similar muscle-growing manner to most prohibited steroids. This also means DHEA comes with all of the ordinary side effects associated with steroid use, including the onset of psychiatric disorders and a worsening of existing preexisting mental disorders, along with the usual suspects like oily skin, acne and unwanted hair growth.

Hydroxycitrate, aka Garcinia Cambogia


Although the FDA banned ephedra in the mid-2000s, none of the major supplement manufacturers were in any rush to watch their revenue streams slip away. So instead, they hurried to find a suitable replacement that would enable them to keep their fat-burning supplements on the market in a controversy-free form. 

Hydroxycitrate — the active ingredient in the herbal remedy garcinia cambogia — emerged as the immediate successor to ephedra. Hydroxycitrate had been in popular use since the mid-1990s when Utah-based company Neways introduced it as the active ingredient in Thinyu, a supplement that would supposedly eliminate the fat from digested food preemptively. While some studies conducted with hydroxycitrate demonstrated its potential to inhibit the accumulation of body fat, that was small consolation to the people whose livers suffered irreparable harm as a consequence of ingesting these reformulated fat burners, and a new version of Hydroxycut in particular. 

To this day, hydroxycitrate remains dogged by a reputation for causing gastrointestinal problems and interfering with prescription medications, and it’s been guilty by association as an ingredient in multiple supplements that have been yanked from the market by the FDA due to their lack of safety. 


In a move of short-term brilliance and long-term stupidity, manufacturers of synephrine submitted newspaper and magazine advertisements declaring it as the diet pill most likely to be the recipient of the FDA’s very next supplement ban. Highlighting its similarity to the recently banned ephedrine, synephrine’s promoters praised it for its similarity to ephedrine. Its redeeming quality, it was said, was that its molecules were so big that it was incapable of passing through the blood-brain barrier, as if that was the thing that prompted ephedrine to cause heart attacks.

In reality, synephrine — which is found in bitter orange extract — has been a disappointment on all fronts. In trials, it demonstrated the capacity to increase the blood pressure and heart rate of test subjects, but to a relatively small extent that failed to match that of ephedrine. To compensate, synephrine is almost always bundled with caffeine and one or more additional fat-burning, blood-pressure-increasing supplements before it’s bottled and distributed. Meanwhile, there have been enough isolated cases of synephrine appearing to cause otherwise healthy consumers to experience heartbeat irregularities, strokes and heart attacks to raise more than a few eyebrows. 

Aromatase Inhibitors, aka Estrogen Blockers

The tendency for anabolic steroid users to develop gynecomastia — basically the growth of female breast tissue — is a result of the conversion of steroids into estrogen. The obvious solution is the discontinuation of steroid use, but who in their right mind would ever want to do that? 

To prevent themselves from growing an impressive bust, steroid users often reach for an aromatase inhibitor, which blocks the surge in estrogen. Obviously, you can imagine why it might look fishy to sports officials if an otherwise healthy male athlete was found with an estrogen blocker in his urine sample. There’s certainly a presumption of guilt by association. It’s a lot like finding a silencer in the home of a suspected killer; you’d be right to assume that he was in possession of a handgun at some point even if he didn’t have one on him during a pat-down.

Strategic chemical alliances aside, aromatase inhibitors will reduce the level of estrogen in your body even if you’re not taking steroids, thereby boosting your ratio of testosterone to estrogen, increasing your muscle mass, and lowering your body fat. It’s essentially a mildly less invasive way of spiking your testosterone without injecting steroids directly. 


It’s safe to say that most people didn’t know what IGF-1 was until NFL legend Ray Lewis was accused of using deer antler extract to help him recover from a tear to his triceps. Harvested from the velvet of deers’ antler, deer antler extract became the latest example of how some people will place absolutely anything into their bodies if they think it will accelerate the growth of their muscles, or shorten their convalescent period when recovering from injuries.  

Of all the supplements that sound like they could double as an ingredient in a witch’s fertility potion, the refined essence of a deer’s antlers has to be near the top of the list, but it’s the IGF-1 contained within the deer antler extract that’s the star of the concoction. As a close cousin to human growth hormone, use of IGF-1 has been linked with accelerated muscle growth and injury recovery, but also with joint pain, Bell’s palsy (i.e., facial paralysis) and the development of several forms of cancer. 

Which isn’t that crazy when you think about it: After all, it shouldn’t be particularly surprising that the ingestion of a hormone that causes things to grow past the point that they naturally would sans supplementation would influence the growth of several types of cells, including cancer cells.

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