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United States Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announced that the Food and Drug Administration plans to study whether ephedra is safe.

Ephedra is a stimulant that is sold to help people lose weight, get bigger muscles, keep them awake when they drive long distances, and a host of fraudulent reasons such as to prevent and treat cancers, allergies, and certain diseases and make you more sexual. This drug has been sold over-the counter, without need for prescription, for more that 30 years primarily for weight loss, energy and sports supplements.

Why should we need a study now when the FDA has reported more than 100 deaths in people who have taken that drug? An activist group, Public Citizen, claims that we don't need any more deaths, ephedra should be banned and that the FDA is guilty of dangerous cowardice. However, there is no solid scientific data to show that ephedra kills. There is only anecdotal evidence and the dangers of ephedra have not been studies scientifically. Look what happened with alar in apples. Apple growers lost millions of dollars because of a health scare that was based on nonsense. The insecticide, alar does not cause cancer, but millions of dollars of apples had to be destroyed because of the prejudice of certain people. Think of the many lawyers who have made money on claims that silicon breast implants cause cancer, craziness and lupus, when scientific evidence shows that they do not.

Ephedra is being sold with false claims of heath benefits and since it is not a regulated drug, the products labeled ephedra may contain such high doses that they can harm you or such low doses that they are worthless. The FDA today sent six warning letters to firms unlawfully selling non-herbal ephedrine-containing products over the Internet. Six letters went to manufacturers of products that contain the drug ephedrine or norephedrine hydrochloride advertised to increase sexual desire and other claims that cannot be supported by good science. Last October, at the FDA's request, U.S. Marshals seized $2.8 million worth of a non-herbal synthetic ephedrine product marketed as a dietary supplement. The manufacturer in April signed an agreement prohibiting it from manufacturing and distributing such products.

Many of the ephedra-containing products do not warn the patient to stop the drug if they develop side effects such as rapid or irregular heartbeat, chest pain, severe headache, shortness of breath, dizziness, loss of consciousness, sleeplessness or nausea. The message is that 1) no comprehensive studies show that reasonable doses of ephedra are dangerous; 2) some sources of ephedra contain dangerous amounts of stimulants that can harm you; 3) some sources contain so little ephedra that they have no effect whatever; 4) that the health food industry is unregulated so that you have no way of telling the difference between a product from an honest manufacturer or a fraud; 5) that lawyers have a huge financial interest in making ephedra a poison and are driven by greed, not a search for the truth.

Ephedra is a stimulant, like caffeine, and I believe that small amounts of ephedra are safe for most people. I also feel that Congress should repeal their 1994 law prohibiting the Food and Drug Administration from regulating herbals because today there is no way for you to know what you are buying.

Checked 5/3/07

May 12th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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