US ban on weight-loss herb ephedra takes effect

April 14, 2004 in Nutrition Topics in the News, Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements

US ban on weight-loss herb ephedra takes effect

A U.S. ban on sales of the herbal supplement ephedra took effect this week as a federal judge in New Jersey rejected a manufacturer's bid to keep the weight-loss aid on the market. The nationwide ban is the first for a dietary supplement. The U.S. government links ephedra to heart attacks, strokes and deaths. Manufacturers insist the product is safe when used as directed.

When the government announced the ephedra ban in December 2003, the Food and Drug Administration said it had reports of 155 deaths of people who took ephedra and more than 16,500 complaints.

Millions of Americans have taken ephedra to lose weight and boost athletic performance, but sales fell after risks were publicized and major retailers stopped selling it.

Attention grew after the February 2003 death of Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler. A Florida medical examiner said Bechler's use of an ephedra supplement contributed to his death.

Ephedra sales were about $500 million in 2003, a 60 percent drop from $1.25 billion in 2002, according to the Nutrition Business Journal.

Note: Health Canada notes that all claims regarding the effectiveness of ephedra are implied and unproven. And ephedra has been linked to over 60 adverse events including strokes, heart attacks, heart rate irregularities, seizures, psychoses and deaths.

In January 2002, Health Canada issued a Health Advisory warning Canadians not to use certain products containing Ephedra, especially in combination with other stimulants. Health Canada recalled all ephedra products that contained caffeine or were above the maximum allowable dosage of 8 mg ephedrine per single dose or 32 mg ephedrine per day.

In a June 2003 news release, Health Canada advised that some ephedra products continued to be sold illegally to consumers. Some retailers have also been advising consumers on how to use legal ephedra-containing products such as nasal decongestant to obtain the same effects as the illegal products. This activity is also considered illegal under the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations.

Canadians have been asked to contact Health Canada if they have observed such illegal acts or if they have further questions regarding ephedra/ephedrine products, by calling the Health Products and Food Branch Inspectorate at 1-800-267-9675. - LB

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