Supplemental Suffering

By Josie Glausiusz|Thursday, May 01, 2003
RELATED TAGS: PHARMACEUTICALS
Ephedra, a weight-loss stimulant linked to the recent death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, is not the only dietary supplement with potentially lethal effects. Physician and toxicologist Mary Palmer of George Washington University analyzed 2,332 calls to poison-control centers in the United States from individuals who had taken supplements.

Among those who reported health problems, one-third of the symptoms were severe, including heart attacks, seizures, liver failure, bleeding, and coma. The substances most frequently associated with such side effects were St. John's wort, ginseng, guarana, chromium, melatonin, and zinc; the worst offender was the herb mahuang, an Asian form of ephedra. Despite the claimed and unintended medical effects of these supplements, there are no laws controlling their sale. "I would love it if people would get active and at minimum demand that there be a registration process so adverse events could be associated and retrieved," Palmer says.

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