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U.S. Seeks Dietary Herb Study Amid Product Safety Concerns

June 15, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Two years after federal health officials wanted warning labels on ephedra, the Bush administration instead is ordering a start-from-scratch safety review of the herb, which has been linked to dozens of deaths.

The move prompted outrage from consumer advocates and doctors who want ephedra banned, citing the dietary supplement's link to heart attacks and strokes.

"This is a black day in medicine," said Dr. Raymond Woosley, vice president of health sciences at the University of Arizona, who called the risk clear enough that further study would be unethical.

But supplement makers, including leading ephedra marketer Metabolife International, praised the decision.

"Clinical trials that have been done over the years ... show the products are safe," said Wes Seigner, attorney for the Ephedra Education Council.

Also Friday, the Food and Drug Administration ordered six companies to stop illegally selling synthetic ephedrine in the guise of an herb.

The FDA for years has sought to stop such sales, which occur mostly via the Internet.

More controversial is the legal use of ephedra--the actual herb, not chemical cousins--for weight loss and bodybuilding.

An analysis in the New England Journal of Medicine two years ago said at least 54 deaths and about 1,000 reports of complications have been linked to the popular supplement since the mid-1990s. One theory is that the herb, especially when combined with caffeine or exercise, overstimulates the heart.

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