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Ephedra - all risk, no benefit
 New study demonstrates multi-organ risk, without the weight loss or athletic improvement
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By DrRich

Dateline: 03/17/03

A new study, due to be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association next week, shows rather definitively that dietary supplements containing ephedrine-alkaloid products (i.e., ephedra) can triple the risk of heart arrhythmias, as well as gastrointestinal problems, psychiatric conditions, and dysautonomia.  And as a bonus, there is no evidence that ephedra either helps with long-term weight loss or improves athletic performance.  Because of the timeliness of this report (in light of the recent, apparently ephedra-related death of Baltimore Oriole pitcher Steve Bechler,) the data was made available on-line early to JAMA subscribers.

This new study was conducted by screening over 500 articles and over 18,000 case reports on the use of ephedrine-alkaloid supplements in people trying to lose weight or to "make the team."  Based on criteria to guarantee a certain level of scientific accuracy, 52 controlled clinical trials and 65 case reports were selected for analysis.  By combining and analyzing the data from these reports, the authors reached several conclusions.

First, there was no evidence that the use of ephedra is associated with long term (i.e., greater than 4 months) weight loss.  Second, there was no evidence that ephedra enhances sports performance.  Third, there was evidence that ephedra increases the risk of cardiac death, stroke, heart attack, and acute psychiatric conditions.  Further, most of these nasty clinical events occur in individuals under 30 years of age (the segment of the population most concerned with athletic performance.)

It is important to realize that substances that are classified as "dietary supplements," such as ephedra, are essentially unregulated.  If ephedra were classified as a drug (which, being an extremely biologically-active substance, it is,) it would come under FDA scrutiny - and would doubtless be severely restricted.  It is likely that, especially when this new study reaches the print media, it will add to the growing outcry to limit the availability of this particular substance.  It may also add to the ever-louder chorus of voices calling for the FDA to regulate all dietary supplements.

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