Skip to comments.Ephedra frenzy
Posted on 01/05/2004 2:50:49 PM PST by Holly_P
The impending federal ban on the diet drug ephedra is yet another example of the government underestimating the U.S. public's capacity to overreact to a health warning.
Ephedra is a useful weight-loss aid when used in moderation and in conjunction with dietary changes and a sensible exercise regimen. Like practically everything else from McDonald's french fries to Jack Daniel's whiskey it's harmless, even beneficial, when consumed in reasonable quantities.
Because it's inexpensive, effective and available over the counter, ephedra has been enormously popular in the United States, aka Obese Nation. The Associated Press reported sales reached $1.3 billion in 2002 but plummeted after Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler died during spring training in 2003. Once it was determined Mr. Bechler was using ephedra, Americans kicked the habit in droves. Nutrition Business Journal estimates sales totaled $500 million last year.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said ephedra had been linked to 155 deaths, as well as dozens of heart attacks and strokes. Mr. Thompson did not volunteer data on the number of Americans who have extended their lives by combining diet, exercise and ephedra into effective weight-loss programs. Nor did he address the question of whether the toll is statistically significant, given the huge number of people who have used ephedra to no ill effect.
There really are two problems with ephedra. First, its manufacture has been unregulated, so the actual contents of the capsules or tablets is anybody's guess. Independent laboratory tests have shown significant variations, so some people who use the drug may be dosing themselves incorrectly or erratically without realizing it.
Second, because it is not a prescription drug, anyone could use it for any reason college students gobbling pills so they can study all night; bridesmaids feasting on ephedra days before the wedding upon discovering their dresses are too tight; high school wrestlers trying to get in under a weight restriction. Such motives encourage excess and risk-taking.
Adding a surreal dimension to Mr. Thompson's announcement is the fact it comes on the heels of evidence Americans are responding competently to the health warnings and don't need further restrictions. It's a sure bet that thousands asked their doctors about ephedra use or stopped using it in fear Mr. Bechler's untimely death foretold their own. It's one thing for the government to step in when people won't behave in their own self-interest; quite another when the public demonstrably is doing what it should. This is such a case.
Rather than imposing a blanket ban on a popular drug, federal officials should work with the industry in developing warnings and practical restrictions aimed at keeping ephedra out of the hands of ignorant or irresponsible consumers.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said ephedra had been linked to 155 deaths
Motor vehicles have recently been linked to 41K+ deaths annually in this country. Hmm...
In some places, for some people. Stay tuned.
(Then again,) The tobacco and liquor lobbies are surely quite a bit $tronger than the over-the-counter herbal remedy lobby.
We should not regard any exposure a chemical that is not native to the body or the natural environment as being harmless or to be used safely without restraint. Aspirin is particularly harmful, and should be looked on with strong suspicion.
About 10,000 Americans each year lose their lives because of taking aspirin.
These deaths are entirely separate from accidental overdose in children.
Aspirin is the trade name for acetylsalicylic acid.
Approximately 5% of persons taking aspirin will have heartburn after a single dose. Bleeding in the stomach and ulceration may follow in susceptible individuals, and is the affliction with results in most of the deaths from aspirin.
Nearly 70% of persons taking aspirin daily show a daily blood loss of 1/2 to 11/2 teaspoons, and 10% of patients lose as much as 2 teaspoons of blood daily.
Aspirin may double the time necessary for human blood to clot, increasing the likelihood of hemorrhage.
By far, the most disabling of the adverse reactions to aspirin is that of asthma. Attacks of asthma are often caused by very small amounts of the drug, and may be accompanied by swelling of the larynx, abdominal pain, and shock.
In an occasional case, death may occur within minutes. Fortunately, this type of sensitivity is unusual, occurring in less than 0.2% of the general population.
Aspirin is a major cause of death in children up to 6 years of age, accounting for more than 500 deaths from overdoses each year. One should never consider any drug, whether over-the counter or prescription to be totally safe. No one, and especially not children, should be exposed unnecessarily to any drug. And never expose the unborn baby to drugs, no matter how mild, including antacids, choose (chews?) for heartburn, antihistamines for motion sickness, or any other drug or chemical.
This point cannot be emphasized too strongly, as many infants are marked for life because of a small exposure to a chemical which the mother took while she was pregnant.
Often the defect in the child is of a biochemical nature rather than a structural abnormality. Perhaps the baby will not be able to make a certain enzyme needed to digest a particular nutrient, or make an essential blood component.
I've taken ephedrine for asthma, but for the life of me I can't understand why anyone would want to do this unless it was absolutely the only drug he responded to. Amazingly, you can get ephedrine and epinephrine (which can kill you) right over the counter, but albuterol, which has virtually zero side effects and is far more effective, can be obtained only by prescription.
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