The high profile recall of ephedra products in both Canada and France in recent days has been backed up by new research from the New England Medical Center published in the January issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
The researchers concluded that the herb, which is also known as ma huang is related to stroke, myocardial infarction and sudden death, even when recommended levels are respected. The herb has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, but western science has yet to show that its potential benefits outweigh the risks.
The research looked at information from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) database which showed that more than 926 cases of possible ephedra poisoning were reported between 1995 and 1997. Further research into closer look at 37 cases of serious herb side effects in patients aged 20 to 69 revealed strokes in 43%, heart attacks in 27% and sudden death in 30%.
"The adverse effects of ma huang documented in this report and others raise several issues regarding the risk of this agent, which has no scientifically proven benefit," concluded Dr David Samenuk and his colleagues.
The problem is that current US regulations on dietary supplements do not require FDA approval, and a product must be proven to be unsafe before it can be withdrawn from the market. "These observations raise questions regarding the adequacy of self-regulation for product quality, consistency, potency and purity within the nutraceutical industry," Samenuk said.