Two years ago, a report in the New England Journal of Medicine created a flutter in medical circles. It said that at least 54 deaths and about 1,000 reports of complications have been linked to ephedra, a plant product that is a source of ephedrine alkaloids. An amphetamine-like compound, ephedra has powerful stimulant effects on the nervous system and heart. Some dietary supplements in the us (promoted for uses such as weight loss and body-building) contain ephedrine alkaloids. The us Food and Drug Administration (fda) wanted warning labels on the herb. The us administration has instead ordered a start-from-scratch safety review of ephedra whose results it wants furnished by December 2002.
There has been a mixed reaction to this controversial move. It has been condemned by consumer advocates and doctors. Raymond Woosley, vice-president of health sciences at the University of Arizona, says that the risk is clear enough and further study would be unethical. However, supplement makers have hailed the decision. "Clinical trials that have been done show the products are safe," claims Wes Seigner, attorney for the Ephedra Education Council.