Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announced that the Food and Drug Administration would soon outlaw U.S. sales of diet products containing stimulants derived from the Ephedra sinica plant.
Encouraged by a Food and Drug Administration ruling last year banning weight-loss supplements containing ephedra, a consumer advocacy group targets at least a dozen other dietary supplements. The FDA had never before banned a dietary supplement, and it took years to agree on a ban on ephedra.
As ephedra steadily disappears from store shelves, a slew of new substances are angling to take its place as a top-selling weight-loss supplement.
Herbal medicine practitioners say they are relieved that their profession has not been included in the F.D.A. ban because ma huang is so useful.
The herb ephedra, also known as ma huang, is a small, twiggy shrub native to Asia, where it has a long history of medicinal use, as documented in ancient medical treatises from India and China. Traditional Chinese and Indian medicine uses the branches of the herb to treat colds and wheezing and as a diuretic. Modern European practitioners of herbal medicine use ephedra only to treat symptoms of respiratory diseases (such as bronchial asthma).
Ma Huang contains the sympathomimetics ephedrine and pseudoephedrine...
The ingredients, apparently new, were popping up on the labels of dietary supplements marketed for weight loss and workouts. Sometimes the label said DMHA. Sometimes, Aconitum kusnezoffii. Or other, even harder-to-parse names.
Ephedra, which has been used in China for centuries to treat asthma and other breathing problems, has been promoted in the United States for its ability to enhance sports performance and increase energy. Little evidence exists to support those claims.
It took an unconscionably long time, but the federal government has finally managed to ban an unsafe dietary supplement before it can harm or kill any more unwary users.
The story about synthetic stimulants popping up in dietary supplements is not new. A little over a decade ago the major dietary supplement of concern in the US was ephedrine (an alkaloid found in ephedra).
Ephedrine was widely used for weight loss and performance enhancement (although it also has approved medical applications).
Ephedra is a low evergreen shrub with small scaly leaves. It has a long history of medicinal use in China and India to treat colds, fever, headaches, coughing, wheezing, and other conditions.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedrine alkaloids (stimulant compounds found in Ephedra sinica and some other plants) in the United States in 2004. Prior to the ban, ephedra was an ingredient in some dietary supplements promoted for weight loss, increased energy, and enhanced athletic performance.