A study published in the online version of Annals of Internal Medicine has suggested that the herbal supplement ephedra, often used for weight loss or to boost energy, is posing a threat to people's health and experts are calling for authorities to ban or restrict access to the supplement. The study used data gathered by the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Researchers claim that out of the total calls received, an estimated 80 per cent of calls were taken from the general public. The researchers compared the number of adverse events among ephedra users versus the number of adverse events among users of other herbs and they took into account the volume of sales for each product. They then calculated that use of ephedra posed a risk 200 times greater than the risk posed by all other herbal supplements combined. Individual comparisons between ephedra and other herbs ranged from a risk 100 times greater when compared with kava, to a risk 720 times greater when compared with ginkgo biloba.
The herb and its extract are already known to cause certain side effects - including anxiety, insomnia and increases in blood pressure and heart rate - as well as being associated with heart attacks and strokes. Also, an earlier study in 2001 at the San Francisco VA Medical Center found that ephedra was responsible for 62 per cent of all herbal-related reports made to poison control centres in the US. This fact further gathered importance as, in the same year, products containing ephedra accounted for less than 1 per cent of herbal supplement sales in the US. Researchers concluded that their findings show that it is time for the supplement either to become subject to more stringent regulation, or be banned altogether.