Question of the Week

March 10, 2003

Ephedra is one herbal supplement that has gotten a lot of attention.

Last month:
"Ephedra is implicated in the death Monday of a 23-year-old athlete - Steve Bechler - a prospective pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles. Coroner Dr. Joshua Perper not only found Ephedra partly to blame for Bechlar's sudden death, he went so far as to say no athlete should take it."

"...Sean Riggins, a 16-year-old high school wrestler and linebacker who dreamed of playing football at Penn State University. One day in September, this 5-foot-6, 175-pound dynamo -- a guy who could make friends with anybody from the most popular jock to the smartest bookworm -- walked into a local gas station, bought a $2 packet of pills located next to the sodas and candy bars, and swallowed them, thinking they would help make him stronger. He never thought those pills, which contained the amphetamine-like stimulant ephedra, would harm him. But Sean's father, Kevin Riggins, thinks otherwise. He buried his only son last September after the boy collapsed from a heatstroke that Kevin Riggins blamed on ephedra. The local coroner agreed that the stimulant contributed to the boy's death."

"While the baseball players' association still has not put forth its position on a potential ban of ephedra from the game, the union has begun to encourage players to refrain from using dietary supplements that contain the controversial stimulant. In a memo sent to players on all 30 major league teams this week, union chiefs Donald Fehr and Gene Orza 'strongly recommend' that players 'be extremely reluctant to use any products containing ephedra.'"

This is not just a sports issue. This is not just a diet pills issue. Chances are you have taken, or know someone who has taken ephedra in one form or another. I got through student teaching by consistently taking my prescription allergy medication. It kept me awake, but I was too busy to sleep, so that was okay. Only when I started getting shaky did the school nurse point out that what I was taking contained ephedra and could be the cause of my edginess. At the time, that meant nothing to me. I had never heard of ephedra.

"Most of the foods you see on the shelves of your local grocery store and the drugs your doctor prescribes for you are regulated by a government agency called the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA ensures that many foods, beverages, and drugs adhere to certain safety standards. But sports supplements aren't regulated by the FDA, and no sports supplements have been tested on kids and teens. That means that scientists and doctors don't know whether supplements are safe or effective for teens to use.... The National Football League (NFL), the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have banned the use of steroids, creatine, ephedra, and androstenedione by their athletes, and competitors who use them face fines, ineligibility, and suspension from their sports."

My medication was prescribed; it's effectiveness and ingredients had been studied and approved by the FDA. It still caused side-effects that I did not expect. The dietary supplements on the market have no one regulating them. Should they?

In today's Internet world, one can find information about just about anything in minutes. The positive and negative results from people who have taken these supplements are out there.

Questions of the Week:
Where does the responsibility rest? Is it my responsibility to fully research everything I ingest? Is it the responsibility of my school or place of employment to place limits on what I can or cannot ingest? Is it the responsibility of the scientists and researchers at the FDA to investigate and regulate everything that is out there that I might possibly ingest (supplements as well as food or medicine)?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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