Tonya Francis, Gold’s Gym fitness coach and three-time fitness competitor, said she has consumed products containing ephedra to prepare for fitness competitions, but will never use ephedra again because it made her edgy and jittery.
The federal government is proposing to regulate the use of dietary supplements containing ephedra, an herb that has been reported to cause strokes, heart attacks, liver cancer and deaths, by recommending new warning labels and possibly banning all products with ephedra content.
“People think if things are natural then they’re safe – that is the assumption,” said Cindy Brinn, nutrition therapist at St. Joseph Hospital. “(But ephedra) causes problems.”
Ephedra is usually produced in the form of a dietary pill and can be purchased at any over-the-counter marketplace, said Halee Loze, Bellingham Nutrition Center employee.
“It is a stimulant that suppresses your appetite,” she said. “It also gives you a quick energy boost.”
Francis said ephedra was overwhelming her even when she took only half the recommended dosage, which is four to six pills daily.
“I would never recommend ephedrine to my clients due to liability reasons,” she said.
Francis said if a client has medical complications before taking ephedra, it could drastically alter his or her health.
Western senior and Puyallup Athletic Club trainer Josh Royce, who has been taking ephedra for more than four years, said he agreed that people should not take ephedra if they have medical problems.
“Yeah, it shreds fat, but do the labels say the downfalls?” he said. “The Baltimore Orioles pitcher (Steve Bechler) died weeks ago just because of ephedra.”
Royce said ephedra is not healthy, and consumers need to be informed.
Many over-the-counter cold and flu pills and dietary and muscle supplements such as Xenadrine, Ripped fuel, Metabolife, Diet Fuel, Speed Stacker, NaturalTRIM and Metab-O-Lite contain ephedra.
Depending on the size or the amount of ephedra capsules, the cost for one bottle can range from $25 to $40, Royce said.
“The amount of the active ingredient (ephedra) can vary in each bottle,” Brinn said. “(Ephedra), being an herbal medicine, does not have standardization from the government.”
The government needs to regulate the amount of ephedra in each capsule, Brinn said. This way people know how much ephedra they are actually consuming with each dose.
Royce said even though his experience with ephedra has been unfortunate, and that he has blacked out twice and needed CPR once for mixing ephedra with alcohol, he still plans on taking ephedra.
“I know it is bad, and I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite,” he said. “But ephedra is the only dietary or muscle supplement that can do what it is supposed to do.”
Loze said although she does not like taking ephedra, she takes it because it energizes her and curbs her hunger.
“You may get results,” Brinn said. “But the benefits are not worth taking the risks.”