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More Than 30 Army Deaths Attributed To Ephedra

Dec 6, 2002 |

The U.S. Army has reported that more than 30 active duty service personnel have died while taking ephedra products thus prompting a recent military warning saying "Ephedra may cause severe medical problems, even death".

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.

Not waiting for a ruling from the FDA, who has been debating ephedra's safety for years, Army leaders have taken action to remove all ephedra products from their bases.

What is Ephedra?

Ephedra is a readily available and legal herbal supplement. And because it is classified as an "herb" it is perceived to be innocuous and doesn't fall under the much tighter scrutiny by the FDA that synthetic drugs do.

Although its risks are highly debated, ephedra is a proven energy booster and fat burner. It is found in over-the-counter diet pills and bodybuilding drinks or mixes, and many of your younger male members at your fitness center may be using it as you read this.

It also known as "ephedrine" and "ma huang", it acts as a stimulant that raises the body’s core temperature and cause irregular heartbeat, insomnia and elevated blood pressure. Furthermore, its energy-boosting effects can dangerously mask signs of fatigue and dehydration.

U.S. Air Force Has Similar Problem

The Army incident follows closely on the heals of the Air Force Surgeon General last month issuing a "Notice to Airmen" on the potential risks associated with any dietary supplements that contain ephedra. This motion was precipitated by the death of a young Air Force member.

"What we know is that this young man took dietary supplements, including ephedra," said Royal Air Force Wing Commander, Dr. Victor Wallace, "Although there was insufficient evidence to be causal, the changes seen in this young man's cardiovascular system can be associated with ephedra use."

In response, the Air Force Services Agency issued a memorandum which called for services activities to remove all ephedra related supplements from Air Force operations.

Response from the Ephedra Industry

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."

Death of Athletes Also Attributed to Ephedra

Our young servicemen are not the only ones affected by ephedra; it has made its way into the sports locker rooms for year.

On September 3, 2002, 16-year old Sean Riggins died of heart failure. He was a Lincoln Illinois Community High School sophomore athlete who purportedly took "Yellow Jacket", an ephedra-caffeine compound that experts blame for his death. His parents have subsequently launched a campaign to ban the herbal supplement.

Further studies have shown that more than 70 percent of college athletes and up to 50 percent of high school athletes have taken some type of performance enhancing supplement. Despite the fact that both the National College Athletic Association and more recently, the NFL, have banned ephedrine supplements, it is still extensively used.

The NFL ban came after the tragic death of Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer, who succumbed to heat stroke during pre-season camp. While autopsy results did not find any evidence of ephedra in his body, supplements containing ephedra were found in his locker.

Today, at least 20 states and the National Football League are among those who have banned or restricted use of ephedrine products.

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