A military study linked use of the weight-loss supplement ephedra to half the cases of heat-related illness at Camp Pendleton in 2000, even though few Marines on the Southern California base were regular users of the substance.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said there is evidence that products containing the herb can cause serious health problems, such as heart attacks and strokes.
The Camp Pendleton study has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. The research, however, was considered by the Navy’s surgeon general when a decision was made in February 2001 to pull ephedra products from Marine bases.
Last summer, the Department of Defense ordered ephedra products to be removed from all stores on military bases worldwide.
The study found that while relatively few Camp Pendleton Marines used ephedra supplements, about half of the two dozen cases of heat-related illnesses involved Marines who had used ephedra within the previous 24 hours.
The FDA has been under pressure to ban ephedra since the widely publicized death in February of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler. He died from complications of heatstroke linked to ephedra.
Ephedra companies insist their products are safe when taken as directed on the label.
The Ephedra Education Council, an industry group, referred questions on the military study to Richard Kreider, a Baylor University professor who heads the Center for Exercise, Nutrition & Preventive Health Research.
Kreider said heatstroke and other heat-related illnesses are a problem in the military, particularly during training, but that there have been no scientific studies to suggest an ephedra link.