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Ex-UH Athlete Backs Ephedra Ban

Jan 5, 2004 | Honolulu Advertiser

Noelle Takemoto, a former University of Hawai'i soccer player, said she took ephedra a couple of times two years ago to get an energy boost before games, but decided she didn't like the way it made her feel.

Takemoto says she is glad that the supplement will soon be banned.

Takemoto, a standout in her studies as well as on the soccer field, said she took ephedra on the advice of another player. She said ephedra did give her a lot of energy, so much that she couldn't relax for hours after the game.

She said the herbal supplement appeals to athletes who don't feel like they're going to perform as well as usual, especially on the road. "You're so tired," she said. "You don't get enough sleep. You don't eat much."

The federal government last week announced a ban on the sale of the popular diet supplement ephedra, also known as ma huang, that is expected to take effect as early as March after the federal rules are formally adopted.

The move came after the sudden death last spring of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, who had been taking ephedra. The supplement also has been linked to heart attacks and strokes, because it speeds heart rate and stresses the system, federal officials said.

For people who buy the herbal supplement in the Islands, it's harder to find the products on the shelf at major stores, health-food stores and specialty retailers.

Takemoto, 22, said she didn't think the quick boost of energy was worth the revved-up feeling that stayed with her. "I didn't want to be dependent on it," she said.

In 2002, Takemoto received academic All-America honors from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. She is finishing school with a major in Hawaiian studies and history, coaching junior varsity boys soccer at Punahou School and working as a caregiver.

The Mo'ili'ili resident said she knew one woman who took ephedra for weight loss and had such a severe reaction that she was hospitalized. "I'm glad that they're banning it," she said.

The Food and Drug Administration is notifying consumers and 62 manufacturers that it will soon be illegal to sell ephedra, a move that is expected to face challenge from those who sell the supplement, which charted sales last year of more than $300 million.

Costco stopped selling diet supplements that contain ephedra nationwide about a year ago, said Charles Burnett, senior vice president for Costco's pharmacy division. Burnett said the Washington-based chain had carried a Metabolife diet product that contained the drug, but discontinued that version because of the growing controversy.

"We wanted to be on the more-than-safe side," Burnett said. "We don't want to carry anything that would cause anybody harm."

Huckleberry Farms health-food stores in Nu'uanu did carry some products containing ephedra earlier but stopped as fewer distributors handled the supplement because of the controversy.

Manager Sharonne Pascua said customers still ask for ephedra now and then, but the company stopped stocking the items after the supplement was linked to health problems.

Pascua said people looking to buy ephedra usually want it for weight loss. Despite that lucrative dieter market, Pascua said many health-food companies want to steer clear of such an item, even before a ban takes effect. "The health food industry realized that herbs if used improperly can be detrimental to your health," she said.

Pascua said at her store the staff encourages customers to do research on supplements before they take anything.

And they encourage common sense among consumers. When it comes to weight loss,"there are no miracles," Pascua said. "You and I both know that diet and exercise are the only way to bring your weight down and keep it off."

At Down to Earth, an employee was pulling any remaining products that contain ephedra off the shelves, but the company would not comment.

Kokua Market vitamin buyer Karen Murray said the health-food store hasn't carried ephedra products for at least 18 months.

"There's too much controversy over it," Murray said. "You don't want people getting hurt using it wrongly."

In May, the national General Nutrition Centers chain also stopped selling products with ephedra.

At Mits' Basic Foods in Kaka'ako, owner Mits Kawashima said he's been easing out of the sale of products that contain ephedra for months.

Kawashima knows that at least one regular customer will be disappointed by the news that ephedra is being phased out in anticipation of the ban. Kawashima said he had been ordering ephedra for an experienced canoe paddler who has taken the supplement regularly for the energy boost. "It does help him with his paddling," Kawashima said.

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