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Health & Medicine

FDA wants strong labels on ephedra

©Associated Press
March 1, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The government began building the case toward a ban of the popular herb ephedra Friday by proposing strong new warning labels that the pills can cause heart attacks and strokes or even kill.

The warning labels, proposed in 1997 but blocked until now by the powerful dietary supplement industry, could be on every bottle by year's end, the first in a series of Food and Drug Administration steps that could limit, if not stop, the herb's use.

But the FDA rankled consumers advocates and some members of Congress by stopping short of an immediate ban of the amphetamine-like stimulant used for weight loss and bodybuilding. The FDA said that despite reports of at least 100 deaths linked to ephedra use, it had not compiled enough proof of danger to stand up in court under a 1994 law that severely limits federal safety oversight of dietary supplements.

"This is not the end of the story," promised Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, saying a ban was possible and the new FDA actions would serve to build the case. "Throughout America, there continue to be tragic incidents that link dietary supplements containing ephedra to serious health problems.

"I would not take this, I would not give it to my family and I don't know why anyone would take these products," Thompson said.

Ephedra has been linked to life-threatening side effects even when used by healthy people at recommended doses -- because it speeds heart rate and constricts blood vessels. Ephedra user Steve Bechler, a Baltimore Orioles pitcher, died last week.

Some products that contain ephedra extracts include Metabolife, Ripped Fuel, Diet Fuel, Stacker 3, NaturalTRIM, Hydroxycu, Xenadrine RFA-1, Metab-O-Lite, Metabolift and Up Your Gas.

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