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Path To Physical Fitness Not Sold In Bottles

Navy warns against use of Ephedrine, other dietary supplements

May 1, 2003 | Kings Bay Periscope,

In a quest for fitness, many people turn to dietary supplements to boost their performance in the gym and achieve optimum results. Unfortunately, some supplements like Ephedrine, may be dangerous to the health of users.

The International Olympic Committee, NCAA, NFL and other athletic organizations have banned Ephedrine and other supplements because of risks associated with them. Even so, the allure of products which claim to enhance athletic performance and energy, and weight loss, may be hard to resist.

''Our society is looking for a quick fix when it comes to fitness,'' said Lt. Rod Hager-man, Submarine Group 10 undersea medical officer. ''Unfortunately, nothing is effortless and guaranteed when it comes to our weight. Regardless of the claims these products make, the risks and side effects outweigh any potential benefit.''

A chief medical examiner determined that a weight-loss drug containing the stimulant Ephedrine most likely contributed to the heatstroke death of Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler in February.

''People who involve themselves with strenuous activity, especially when they combine this with their diet and the drug, really put themselves at significant risk. And that's the reason a host of athletic organizations have said 'no' to Ephedrine and the Navy is looking into the same,'' said Hagerman.

Sailors and Marines may be attracted to these products for the performance-enhancing qualities manufacturers advertise.

''They only see the physically fit bodies on the bottles, boxes and ads, and they don't really understand how the ingredients in these products act in their bodies,'' said Hagerman.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration shows mounting evidence Ephedra and other nutritional supplements are harmful. The FDA warns Ephedra limits the body's ability to dissipate heat during strenuous physical activity. The FDA particularly warns against using products containing ephedra during heavy workouts, with caffeine and other stimulants, or in a diet program that stresses the cardiovascular system.

''Ephedra is known to cause increased blood pressure, increased pulse rate, and an increased risk of dehydration, heat stress and cardiac arrhythmias which all can be deadly. There have been several cases involving Sailors and Marines here related to this substance use,'' said Dr. Hagerman.

Even those products claiming to be Ephedrine free can contain ingredients that have similar risks.

''Don't just look at the brand name, look at the active ingredients,'' said Hagerman. ''The potential for abuse is high with these products because people think that if a little amount will produce the results products claim, then a lot will do even more. Additionally, people who take these products are often combining them with other products like creatine, increasing risks.''

According to the FDA, taking creatine increases potential adverse effects, such as muscle strain, upset stomach, kidney problems and dehydration.

These products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration because they are categorized as dietary supplements. This classification means companies do not have to prove they work, and there are no regulated manufacturing standards in place to prevent mislabeling of dosages. However, due to Ephedra's potentially deadly side effects, the FDA is not now calling for strict limits on recommended dosages and proposing new consumer labeling requirements.

''The Navy will be coming out with instructions based on recommendations from the medical community to help regulate usage of Ephedra and other dietary supplements for Sailors and Marines,'' said Hagerman.

''Don't take supplements. I've seen too many cases of individuals who thought they knew what they were doing and have died or been injured,'' said Dr. Hagerman.

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