Embattled ephedra has taken yet another shot across the bow, this time from researchers funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine who say the sale of ephedra products should be restricted or banned.
Ephedra accounted for less than 1 percent of herbal product sales in 2001, but the supplement alone, or in combination with other herbs, was responsible for 64 percent of adverse reactions to herbal supplements, the researchers said in a paper that is to be published in the March 13 edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Suffolk County, N.Y., lawmakers used similar statistics to justify an outright ban on the sale of products that contain ephedra. The law, passed Feb. 11 on a 12-5 vote, stops the sale of ephedra products but not the manufacture of the supplement.
The physician researchers reached their conclusion about the danger of ephedra after reviewing adverse reactions reported to U.S. Poison Control Centers.
Their recommendation came in the wake of an announcement by the nation's largest convenience-store chain that ephedra products had been pulled from store shelves.
In January, EAS Inc., a Golden, Colo. sports nutrition company, and convenience store giant 7-Eleven Inc. said they would not sell products containing the herb.
Ephedra, used by millions for bodybuilding and weight loss, has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, seizures and at least one death, and has been under increasing regulatory scrutiny.
Both EAS and 7-Eleven cited consumer concern and retail trends as the reason for dropping ephedra products.
"We heard it from our customer base and we observed trends in the marketplace," EAS Vice President Chip Bellamy said. "There is a clear trend toward moving away from ephedra products. You're seeing more nonephedra products on retail shelves."
In March, EAS will launch a new, nonephedra weight-control supplement, Thermo DynamX.
EAS stopped manufacturing ephedra-based weight-loss products in August 2002, but filled orders until January. "We basically had orders from existing retail customers that we had to fill," Bellamy explained.
Both companies' officials said recent laws passed in California, requiring strong warning labels on ephedrine products, and increasing concern about the stimulant on the part of the federal government and consumer watchdog groups did not influence their decision to drop ephedra products.
Until the line was discontinued, EAS's ephedra products carried one of the most extensive warning labels in the industry, Bellamy said. "When we entered the market two years ago, we complied with the [existing] Texas warning label statute. Had we continued to sell ephedra products, they would have complied with California law."
7-Eleven has always limited the sale of ephedra products to customers over age 18, said Dana Manley, the Dallas-based company's director of marketing and communications. And while the announcement that the retailer had discontinued sales of ephedra came last month, 7-Eleven actually pulled ephedra products from its shelves last November.
"You shouldn't see any ephedra in our stores if you walked in today," she said. "We've also been working with several suppliers for the past year to develop nonephedra products."
Nancy Nachman-Hunt is a Boulder, Colo. freelance writer and editor.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 3/p. 19