Study calls for major reforms in marketing of ephedra

ROCHESTER, Minn. - In a study published in the August 2003 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers found that some Web sites that advertise dietary herbal supplements containing the popular weight-loss dietary supplement ephedra fail to disclose potential adverse effects and make misleading statements about the safety, use and efficacy of the supplements. Researchers suggest that by misleading consumers, the Web sites could be in violation of truth-in-advertising standards.

"In our study we clearly document the need to change the way ephedra products are advertised," says Bimal Ashar, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and senior author of the study. "Since this article was written, there have been new steps taken by the Food and Drug Administration to investigate whether ephedra products should be more tightly regulated."

Ephedra is known to have some serious adverse effects, including hypertension, tachycardia (fast heart rate), palpitations, anxiety, stroke and psychosis. It has been linked to some well-publicized cases, including the death of 23-year-old Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler who died earlier this year after taking an over-the-counter drug that contains ephedra as its primary ingredient.

Despite this and other well-publicized cases about the toxic effects of ephedra, sales have risen in the last five years. And, researchers estimate that approximately 1 percent of the general population in the United States has taken products that contain ephedra to lose weight.

Critics of ephedra's use as a dietary supplement point out that the active ingredient of this Asian herb is ephedrine, a stimulant that acts similarly to amphetamines.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is responsible for regulating product advertising, developed advertising guidelines that include substantiating marketing claims and disclosing potential safety issues. However, of

Contact: John Murphy
Mayo Clinic

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