Biomedicine

Ephedra--Weighing the Evidence

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Science  28 Mar 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5615, pp. 1947
DOI: 10.1126/science.299.5615.1947d

The herbal product ephedra is a component of many dietary supplements that have been aggressively marketed as promoting weight loss and boosting athletic performance. Recurrent anecdotal reports of adverse effects associated with use of these supplements have prompted investigations into their safety and efficacy.

After an extensive literature review of controlled trials of ephedra or its active ingredient ephedrine, Shekelle et al. concluded that the agents promoted only modest short-term weight loss and were associated with a two- to three-fold increased risk of psychiatric, cardiac, and gastrointestinal symptoms. There were no controlled studies assessing the effect of ephedra on long-term weight loss or athletic performance. Compiling data from poison control centers, Bent et al. found that although ephedra-containing products represent less than 1% of herbal product sales, they nevertheless accounted for 64% of all adverse reactions to herbs in the United States. — PAK

J. Am. Med. Assoc.289, 1537 (2003); Ann. Intern. Med. 138, 468 (2003).

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