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Ephedra Nixed By Army, But Not By FDA

Dec 5, 2002 | WWW.CBSNEWS.COM

With the safety of American troops resting on its shoulders, the U.S. armed forces have now banned ephedra products from commissaries and military exchanges worldwide.

A chemical cousin to speed, ephedra is in dozens of so-called "fat-burning" products. And as CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports, it's also been linked to heart attacks, strokes and seizures.

More than 30 active duty service personnel have died while taking ephedra products, prompting a recent military warning saying ephedra may cause severe medical problems, even death.

Many soldiers were taking ephedra on their own as an all-natural way to get an edge in their physical training. But military doctors became alarmed when a rash of healthy young men some in their early 20's began dropping dead, all of them using ephedra products.

Men like retired U.S. Army pilot Michael McDonald. His heart stopped during physical training. Rescuers shocked him back to life, but he suffers debilitating memory loss.

"My military career was cut short," McDonald says.

Sgt. Michael Stanley helped revive McDonald. He stopped taking ephedra when it was linked to McDonald's collapse and agrees with banning it from bases.

"I think it's an excellent move on their part," Stanley says. "These products should not be available to soldiers on post.

"In my opinion, they shouldn't be available period."

Military leaders marched forward to remove ephedra products even before the FDA, which has been debating ephedra's safety for years. The ephedra industry says nobody's proven what caused the military deaths, and its own scientific studies show ephedra is entirely safe.

Industry spokesman Wes Siegner does say soldiers in rigorous training programs may want to avoid ephedra but insists it should be available to others on base who need it.

"Maybe there are some people on military bases who should not be taking these products," Siegner says. "We'd be happy to try figure that out with the military and educate those people."

"For people who need to lose weight, these products are safe and beneficial when used as directed."

Meantime, a leading maker of ephedra products, Twinlabs announced it will soon stop selling ephedra supplements: something it called a "sound business decision in the current climate."

With the military ban, the climate for ephedra seems to be growing more uncertain.

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