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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Dietary Supplement Ephedrine - Should It Be Banned?


Ephedrine is a sympathomimetic, which stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and increases the rate and strength of heart contractions. Presently, it is an immensely popular ingredient in dietary supplements (over three billion servings a year in 1999) known for its ability to decrease body weight and body fat. However the side effects of the ephedra alkaloids have not gone without notice. Annals of Internal Medicine in March 2003 found that 64% of all the adverse reactions such as stroke, seizure and myocardial infarction reported to poison control centers around the country that deal with the herbal supplements had to do with ephedra. This staggering number as well as some high profile deaths temporally linked to the use of ephedrine supplements has added to the controversy calling for a ban of the supplements. Studies into the cardiovascular effects of ephedrine ingestion (< 60 mg) have shown mixed results. Because ephedra is an herb, only if the FDA proves a clear danger to public health can it curb sales. Therefore the controversy lingers, calling for a universal standard of proper dosage and proper labeling so that more evidence can be gathered to determine the safety of the popular supplement.

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