\Ephedra, an herbal stimulant found in a number of popular dietary supplements, has come under scrutiny because of its connection with dozens of deaths and other health dangers.
As a result, last week the Public Citizen Health Research Group, a consumer research and advocacy organization, asked that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration bar the production and sale of supplements containing ephedrine alkaloids.
According to FDA reports, the use of ephedra has led to 81 deaths and 1,398 adverse health reactions. It has also been suspected as the cause for heart attacks, strokes and seizures in healthy young adults. The Ephedra Education Council estimates that three billion servings of dietary supplements containing ephedra are consumed annually. Health Canada, a health and human resources department, recently warned consumers not to utilize products containing ephedra.
Popular products containing ephedra, also known as ma-huang, include fat burners like Stacker 2 and Stacker 3, and Yellow Jackets, the energy-inducing caplets. A single bottle of any of the products, each priced at about $40, does not come cheap.
At General Nutrition Center on East William Street, which stocks each of these products, a large sign on the front counter cautions customers purchasing ephedra products and states that their sale is restricted to those 18 years of age or older.
“If people are on a workout routine for a month and wanted a quick boost, they will buy them,” said LSA senior Jamila Stanton, a GNC employee, referring to the Stackers. “It”s not bad using it as directed and for a short period, but there are problems when you take too much.”
An LSA sophomore who didn”t want her name printed said she is currently using a fat-burner containing ephedra.
“I just started recently, so I haven”t seen many effects yet, but two of my friends took it and lost some weight,” she said.
“It says specifically on the label how much you should take. I think the people having the heart attacks and seizures are probably the ones abusing it,” she said, adding that the recent health reports on ephedra will not stop her from taking dietary supplements.
Stacey Pearson, a physician and psychologist at University Counseling and Psychological Services, noted that many of the students she sees have eating disorders or are troubled by self image.
“College is a transition that can exacerbate eating issues,” she said. “There is a general societal pressure for beauty and a disparity between what”s average and normal for women and what”s average and normal for models.”
Ephedra Education Council statistics show that 60 percent of the U.S. population is overweight. At any given time, 35 percent to 40 percent of adult American women are trying to lose weight, while 20 percent to 24 percent of adult American men are trying to shed extra pounds.
The dietary supplement industry”s Council for Responsible Nutrition has defended ephedra, claiming that it is not dangerous in its proper dosage.