Ban On Ephedra
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to ban dietary supplements containing ephedra. Consumers are advised to immediately stop taking any products containing ephedra due to unreasonable health risks.
“Taking anything containing ephedra has immediate, measurable effects on the cardiovascular system,” says Ronald A. Stine, MD, Chief of the Department of Cardiac Services at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. “Effects include sharply elevated blood pressure and irregular heart rhythms, which can lead to heart palpitations, shortness of breath, heart attack, and stroke.” Dr. Stine adds, “Some effects can be permanent.”
Ephedra (or an ephedrine alkaloid) is found in many products marketed for weight loss, enhanced sports performance, or energy boosts. Often labeled as “natural” or “herbal” because they come from plant material such as Ma Huang or Sida cordifolia, these products often combine ephedrine with caffeine to enhance their effects.
“Don’t be fooled by the ‘natural’ labels on these products,” warns Dr. Stine. “The effects are similar to speed, and they can hurt you.”
The Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that more than 3 billion doses of ephedrine are sold annually in the U.S., to the tune of about $7 billion.
Risk To Athletes
A recent study by RAND Corporation concluded that ephedra has minimal if any proven benefit for enhanced sports performance, and the stimulating effects may mask signs of fatigue, causing even the most well-conditioned athletes to push beyond their physical limits. Thus, ephedra’s risks are potentially much more serious for competitive athletes than for the general population. A noteworthy example is the death of Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler, who collapsed after taking three ephedra tablets before a practice in February 2003.
The National Football League, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and U.S. Olympic Committee have already banned ephedra use.
Ephedra sales are also banned on U.S. military bases.
“Stop using products with ephedra now,” says Dr. Stine. “Don’t wait for the ban, and don’t use up what you have.” Dr. Stine adds, “If you have ever taken ephedra, please see your cardiologist or primary care physician. You may have permanent and lasting effects from even a single dose.”