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Senator Wants to Ban Ephedra

Mar 6, 2003 | Ventura County Star

A state senator who last year pushed through a law barring the sale of ephedra-based products to state teen-agers announced Wednesday she will seek to banish the dietary supplements entirely in California.

Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, said that in the wake of the spring-training death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler and continued inaction on the part of the federal Food and Drug Administration "it would be a dereliction of duty" to allow ephedra-based products on store shelves.

Ephedra is a herb included in dietary supplements designed to stimulate weight loss and increase energy. In large doses or when used in combination with other stimulants such as caffeine it can produce severe side effects such as strokes, seizures and heart attacks.

Two University of California at San Francisco researchers who last month authored a critical study of ephedra supported Speier's proposal. In a joint statement, Drs. Stephen Bent and Michael Shlipak wrote, "Since there are no clinically important benefits to the use of ephedra, and the risks are now known to be substantial and severe, the clear course of action to protect the public health is to ban this product."

Their study, published in the current edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine, reported that while ephedra products accounted for less than 1 percent of all herbal products sold in the United States in 2001, they were responsible for 64 percent of complaints of adverse reactions reported to poison control centers.

The Ephedra Education Council did not return a call for a response to Speier's proposal, but in a statement last week a spokesman said the industry supports greater federal regulatory oversight but objects to "the rush to judgment over the tragic death of Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler."

Wes Siegner, general counsel of the council, said the regulated sale of ephedra products "will ensure that responsible adults who desperately need weight loss options will have continued access."

He cited a recent RAND Corp. study which found that those who use ephedra-based products on average lose about 2 more pounds per month than those who lose weight through diet and exercise alone.

Joanne Ikeda, a nutritionist at UC Berkeley's Center on Weight & Health, noted that the RAND study showed no evidence of long-term benefits from ephedra use. Those who use the products, she said, are just as likely to gain back the weight as those who try any weight-loss method other than a lifestyle change in eating and exercise habits.

Consumers Union, the non-profit group that publishes Consumer Reports magazine, also announced its support for Speier's proposed ban.

"It is a drug; it is not a food," said Elisa Odabashian of Consumers Union.

Under the law by Speier last year, the sale of ephedra products to minors has been prohibited in California since Jan. 1. A second part of the bill requiring more stringent warnings on the labels of ephedra products has been delayed for six months to give the industry more time to comply.

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