A heated debate over the safety of ephedra — a popular but controversial weight-loss supplement — is being fueled by news that a coroner is checking whether it contributed to the death of a professional baseball player.
Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler died on Monday after collapsing during spring training. Bechler, 23, was slightly overweight and ephedra supplements were found in his locker.
Broward County, Florida Medical Examiner Dr. Joshua Perper said he believed the supplement had something to do with Bechler’s death from heatstroke. He said he had learned that Bechler took three daily tablets of Xenadrine RFA-1, one brand of supplement containing ephedra.
The National Football League, the International Olympic Committee and the National Collegiate Athletics Association have banned ephedra use among players but baseball leagues have not.
“I would like to hope that this very unfortunate and tragic death would prompt, perhaps, the baseball association and other groups to ban them from their practice,” Perper told a news conference on Tuesday.
But manufacturers of the supplement insist their product is safe when taken as directed. Consumer groups hope to get ephedra banned completely and U.S. government health officials are looking into it.
The Health and Human Services department has commissioned the RAND research corporation to do a report on the safety of ephedra. It is due next month.
Earlier this month, a team of researchers in San Francisco said they had found that ephedra is responsible for 64 percent of all adverse reactions reported from herb use, although ephedra products account for less than 1 percent of such supplements sold.
Writing in the Annals of Internal Medicine, they said that people who take ephedra products are 200 times more likely to suffer a complication from it than from other supplements.
The New England Journal of Medicine published an analysis two years ago that found 54 deaths linked to use of ephedra since 1995. Public Citizen, a consumers’ advocacy group, says 100 deaths have now been reported.
In January, the Mayo Clinic Proceedings published a study that reviewed reports of so-called adverse reactions linked to ephedra. Even at recommended doses, it found 11 sudden deaths, 16 strokes and 10 heart attacks in patients who took products containing ephedrine.
Cytodyne Technologies of Manasquan, New Jersey, which makes Xenadrine RFA-1, said its product had been tested and found safe. It said the recommended dose was two tablets.
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