The American Council on Exercise Wednesday urged consumers to avoid using any product containing ephedra, an herbal supplement linked to the deaths of at least two professional athletes.
Citing a study commissioned by the National Institutes of Health and findings by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the ACE noted that ephedra’s limited short-term benefits are overshadowed by risks that included insomnia, hyperactivity and heart palpitations.
“Ephedra has been linked to many life-threatening side effects, even when taken at suggested dosages by presumably healthy individuals,” said Dr. Cedric Bryant, ACE’s chief exercise physiologist and vice president of educational services.
“Exercise and the use of other stimulants like caffeine can exacerbate the adverse effects associated with ephedra use.”
Ephedra has been cited as a major cause in the February death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, who suffered heatstroke and collapsed during spring training.
Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer collapsed and died after suffering heatstroke during training camp in 2001, a death the team has attributed at least partly to Stringer’s use of ephedra.
The substance is banned by the NFL, the International Olympic Committee, the NCAA and baseball’s minor leagues. During labor negotiations last summer, the Major League Baseball Players Association fought efforts to prohibit the use of ephedra.
“It is important that individuals attempting to lose weight understand that there is no safer approach than regular exercise and sensible nutrition,” Bryant said. “Unfortunately for most Americans, it’s a tougher `pill’ to swallow.”