Ephedra, a popular herbal weight loss and body building supplement, has potentially fatal effects.
“Ephedra has the same kind of effects on the body that your body’s own natural adrenaline has in that it stimulates the heart,” said Staff Physician Jeff Tombrello at the Ole Miss Health Center.
“When you combine this with the other activities people are involved with, it’s a recipe for disaster.”
For many people, ephedra seems to suppress appetite, but what is really happening is the body is on a short-term stimulant. As soon as a person stops taking the drug, the weight will return, said North Mississippi Baptist Memorial Hospital Pharmacist Mark Jaggers.
“People walk around with cardiac or heart abnormalities that are so minor they might live their whole life never knowing they had that abnormality. But then when you add any extremely unusual stress such as dehydration, artificial stimulates or heavy exertion, the abnormality can become pronounced,” Tombrello said.
The problems caused by ephedra can be made worse when the stimulant reacts with other drugs a person may be taking, such as caffeine or a prescribed medication, Tombrello said.
“The higher the dose, the more dangerous. What is a high dose for one is not for another person. This is true for any non-controlled drug.” Tombrello said.
For a drug it takes $300-$500 million for a company to prove the drug is safe and for it to come into the market.
Despite all the studies, drugs will have effects that were not predicted in the research and will be withdrawn, Tombrello said.
The herbal industry has no controls over it like the drug industry, so the only controls that it has are self-imposed, Tombrello said.
“As a result when you buy an herb, you don’t know how much active ingredient is in it or its purity,” Tombrello said.
“You don’t know the full range of those active ingredients’ effects on the body, nor do you know what other ingredients are in the particular preparation.
“And moreover, you don’t know how that active ingredient will interact with other herbs or prescribed medications,” Tombrello said.
Ephedra, also known as ma huang, was named as a factor in the recent death of Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler.
“Medically, it is really idiotic to take it,” Jaggers said. “The science is clear, but the politics is keeping the FDA from banning it.”