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Man Blames Stroke on Ephedra Use

Jan 8, 2004 | A metro Atlanta man is praising last week's decision by the Food and Drug Administration to begin banning the sale of ephedra soon.

But 37-year-old Michael Smith of Villa Rica said he wishes the FDA had taken such a strong stance years ago before he suffered a stroke.

In 2000, Smith took a dietary supplement containing ephedra called Thermadrene to help shed a few pounds.

He'd been using it for about six weeks without any trouble. Smith said he never had any concerns about how ephedra might affect his health.

"Never, because I had never heard any bad stories about ephedra," Smith said. "I really didn't know that much about what it was. I just knew that it made the weight come off pretty easily."

He said his opinion of ephedra changed dramatically one day when he was rushed to the emergency room after taking two tablets.

"I started feeling side effects like a loss of feeling in my left side, nausea, severe headache, stuff like that," Smith said.

His doctors quickly realized that Smith had suffered a stroke, but they had no idea at first what triggered it.

"There was nothing that was known to him or his family that would cause a stroke," said one of Smith's attorneys. "There was nothing in his medical history, so they were searching for a cause."

The doctors later wrote about Smith's case in a medical journal, concluding that his stroke was "a consequence of his use of a product containing ephedra."

They called for "better government controls" and "more adequate warnings" about the risks on product labels.

"If he had been aware that this drug could cause a stroke, he would have never taken it," said the attorney who represents Smith in a lawsuit against the companies that made, distributed and sold Thermadrene with ephedra.

"There are a lot of innocent people that have been harmed from the use of this product," she said.

In fact, according to the FDA, ephedra has been linked to 155 deaths and 16-thousand cases of adverse reactions, including stroke.

Now seven years after it first tried to regulate the substance, the government is warning consumers they should stop using ephedra. A ban could be in place by march.

In reacting to the FDA's decision, Smith said he felt "a great sense of relief that nobody else may have to go through this as I have."

"I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy," he said.

Smith spent two months in the hospital after his stroke and has gone through extensive rehabilitation since then.

He still has trouble walking, talking and writing from time to time.

A spokeswoman for one of the defendants in Smith's lawsuit, General Nutrition Companies, Inc., said GNC does not comment on any pending litigation.

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