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What the FDA’s Ephedra Ruling Means to Dieters

separator Doctors generally do not recommend that anyone take ephedra, either for improved sports performance or for weight loss. But many of them do acknowledge that drugs containing ephedra have helped people lose weight, especially when the drug is combined with caffeine.

The FDA ruling banning products containing ephedra will take effect 60 days after the agency issues a regulation stating its reasons for the ban. In the meantime, people have already begun hoarding ephedra products, to the point that these products are almost impossible to find.

Going off ephedra suddenly is not dangerous. People who stop cold turkey do not experience side effects. But they may experience weight gain, because their appetite is likely to increase.

Any diet supplement you can buy over the counter is likely to contain properties that are similar to ephedra. You may notice products with labels stating “ephedra-free.” Often, these products are combined with caffeine. The goal of these supplements is to increase your metabolism so that you burn more calories. But products that increase your metabolic rate will raise your heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. This is dangerous for people who are overweight or obese and who have diabetes, high blood pressure or vascular disease.

There are some herbal laxatives that are sold as tea. They’re often advertised as promoting weight loss. But these products cause the body to lose water only, so you don’t lose fat and you may experience electrolyte imbalances. Electrolytes are your body’s essential minerals.

The basic truth is that over-the-counter weight loss supplements are problematic either in safety or effectiveness. You simply shouldn’t count on them to help you lose weight safely. It’s possible that your doctor may be able to prescribe a medication that can help you lose weight. There are medications on the market for this.

The New York Times, Science Times Section, “Slim Pickings: Looking Beyond Ephedra,” 5 January 2004.
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