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Ephedra - On Or Off The Shelves?

May 6, 2003 |

At his heaviest weight 25 year old Judd Doolittle hit 250 pounds. He started using an ephedra-based product two years ago and lost seventy pounds, losing ten in the first two weeks.

A substance found in several over the counter medicines is raising some serious questions. It's called ephedra. It's safely used in things like 'nasal decongestants' but is also sold as a botanical herb not regulated by the food and drug administration.

People use ephedra for weight loss, or to help build muscle. It's a stimulant, used to excite the system. Some people have been very successful with ephedrine, but doctors warn, there's a reason for the controversy.

Doolittle admits the ephedra-product is pretty potent stuff, his heart would race, he couldn't sleep as well, it was a constant rush which is exactly why ephedra has created such an excitement and concerns among doctors.

The stimulant dialates blood vessels, acting like adrenaline. Ephedra or ephedrine are the common names for the chinese herb known as mah-hung.

It's very useful when treating asmtha, and nasal congestion. In a much weaker form, ephedra can be mixed in a tea or blended with other botanicals and used safely, with a doctor's supervision.

But it's these types of products, raking in more than $12 million in sales in 1999 that may be misleading and dangerous to consumers.
Ephedra-based products have been linked to many adverse effects, ranging from nervousness, anxiety, and insomnia to heart attack, stroke, psychosis, and even death.

In 1997 the FDA attempted to stop sales of the products and then tried adding warning labels to the packaging. But manufacturers argued they didn't have enough evidence to do either.

The US Health and Human Services Department recently reported new evidence to the FDA warning of the health risks.

Many products containing ephedra have been pulled from store shelves but many other remain. One of the biggest concerns is flashy marketing tools geared toward children like these flourescent colors.

Doctor Williams thinks the FDA should regulate things with high-side-affect ephedra has even treated kids who used them for rapid heartbeats, high blood pressure, and panic attacks.

Regardless, Judd Doolittle remains excited about the weight-loss pills. He says they put him in a better mood and even recommends ephedra-based products.

Even though the FDA struck out in 1997 trying to put a warning label on ephedra-based products they'll still considering it. Many doctors think it's just a matter of time before that's approved.

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