U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and U.S. Rep. John Sweeney, R-Clifton Park, seek a nationwide ban on the dietary supplement ephedra.
”The evidence is clear and compelling. The use of ephedra has resulted in dozens, if not hundreds, of strokes, heart attacks and deaths,” Schumer said in a statement.
Ephedra was said to contribute to the February death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler. Over-the-counter sales were banned in Suffolk County in March, and New York City legislators proposed a bill on Wednesday to ban it there as well.
Because ephedra is considered a dietary supplement and not a drug, the Food and Drug Administration has no regulatory power over it. However, according to the FDA’s count, between 1993 and February 2003, ephedra has allegedly led to 117 deaths.
General Nutrition Centers announced Friday that it would discontinue sales of the dietary supplement because of its declining popularity.
Though used in China for thousands of years as an antihistamine and decongestant, its primary uses in America have been for weight loss or to boost energy.
Richard Frank, owner of the Four Seasons Natural Foods Store & Cafe on Phila Street in Saratoga Springs, said he’s been selling ephedra products in decongestants for years.
”Like all herbs, when used effectively, it can be very good,” Frank said. He added that some herbal energizers he sells, like Natural Balance products, have discontinued the use of ephedra.
”We’ve successfully marketed ephedra-based products for 15 years,” said Scott Smith, vice president of corporate development at Natural Balance. ”But due to rising insurance costs and declining consumer confidence, we have developed alternative supplements just recently.”
Paul Arciero, a professor of exercise science and nutrition at Skidmore College, said he is not a proponent of ephedra but has done research on the product. From a scientific perspective, he concluded that as an energy booster and weight loss product, it is certainly effective.
”It should be a banned over the counter,” he said, but added, ”under a physician’s supervision in a controlled setting, it can be a useful strategy” to battle obesity. He added that some of the negative side effects are tremors, heart palpitations and, in some cases, death.
At Curves For Women, a Ballston Spa health club, they have a different philosophy concerning fitness.
”We’d rather people work naturally,” manager Nancy Keenan said. ”We want to work with women to raise their metabolism. The best way to do that is to do exercise.”