Dietary supplements containing the herb ma huang (ephedra) can increase the risk of heart attack and sudden death--even in healthy people who take the recommended doses, a new study reveals.
Ma huang, an herbal source of ephedrine (ephedrines are a group of naturally occurring chemical stimulants that increase heart rate and raise blood pressure), is found in some weight-loss and energy-enhancement supplements. While the herb has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 5,000 years, it has not been proven effective by Western scientific standards. Many studies, in fact, have found an association between Ma huang and the risk of heart attack and death.
The current review of information from a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) database found that more than 926 cases of possible Ma huang poisoning were reported between 1995 and 1997. Researchers from the New England Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts took a closer look at 37 reports of serious herb side effects in patients aged 20 to 69. Patients in 43% of these cases suffered strokes, 27% had heart attacks and 30% died suddenly. Nearly all of the patients took doses within recommended levels and only one patient had a history of heart disease, the report indicates.
The new findings support previous studies demonstrating that Ma huang may increase the risk of heart attack and death, and suggest that the current US FDA system of monitoring the safety of dietary supplements may not go far enough to protect consumers.
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