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Why Is Ephedra Banned?
by Justin Leonard
UPDATED May 8, 2004
Written on December 30, 2003

According to the Center for Disease Control (http://www.cdc.gov), approximately 442,398 deaths per year are attributed to cigarette smoking. There are approximately 110,640 deaths per year that are directly linked to alcohol consumption. Since its introduction onto the US retail market, ephedra has killed 155 people.

The headlines read, "FDA Bans Ephedra." "Sale of Ephedra-based Supplements Prohibited by FDA." "US Announces Ban on Ephedra." But did this herbal stimulant really deserve the boot? In the following article, I will provide an analysis of the ephedra supplement ban.

Why is ephedra banned?

By average health standards, ephedra seems relatively safe. Why don't they ban cigarettes or alcohol instead? This would give the US one of, if not the, lowest per capita mortality rates in the world. Ephedra has never even made a dent on the annualized mortality charts!

How many ephedra-related deaths were due to abuse?

The media seems to underscore athlete or teen ephedra-related deaths without addressing the potential misuse of the supplement. It was newsworthy of late because it affected the nation's top athletes. But they never mention the underlying cause of death. Was abuse involved? Should they (victims) have even been taking ephedra-based supplements in the first place?

Is ephedra only going to be banned in supplements and sports performance drinks?

This question needs to be asked because ephedra is also found in many over-the-counter medications. Until recently, almost all energy and fat-burning supplements contained ephedra. But everything we take for allergies, decongestion, and asthma contains certain forms of ephedra [as the main ingredient]. It's also used in several other types of medicines and products. Are they going to ban ephedra from medicine too?

Conclusion

In summary, what may be surprising is that I'm on both sides of the fence on this issue. I support the ban because although effective, ephedra-based supplements offer only a temporary weight loss. Additionally, the effects wear off and it ultimately becomes completely ineffective. The ban also forces fitness and medical professionals to be more vocal about what truly works for weight loss.

I'm against the ban because I never thought ephedra posed any serious health risks as long as it was taken as per the recommendations. If anything, it should have been switched to a doctor prescribed remedy for use in rare circumstances or as an alternative to various medical procedures.

I'll leave you with this: There are 442,398 people that die each year from cigarettes. In fact, cigarettes can kill you if you get too close to them! There are at least 110,640 people that die each year from alcohol. Ephedra has only killed 155 people since being introduced... We're not talking per year. We're talking since it has been put on shelves. And although unfortunate, it's still a very low number. Why is ephedra banned?

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