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Ephedra Ban Upheld, but CU Warns that Dangerous Dietary Supplements Still in Stores

Monday, April 12, 2004
Janell Mayo-Duncan, (202) 462-6262

Ephedra Ban Upheld, but Consumers Union Warns that
Dangerous Dietary Supplements Still in Stores

(Washington, D.C.) – Consumers Union hailed a federal judge’s decision today to allow a nationwide ban on dietary supplements containing ephedra to go into effect, but it warned that dangerous supplements still remain on store shelves and called on Congress to pass legislation to give the government authority to investigate and remove dangerous supplements from the market.
Consumer Reports May issue identified a “dirty dozen” list of supplements that according to government warnings, adverse-event reports, and top experts are too dangerous to be on the market. Many of the supplements have been linked to kidney failure, liver disease or cancer. For more information on the “dirty dozen” supplements, click here.
These unsafe supplements include Aristolochia, an herb conclusively linked to kidney failure and cancer in China, Europe, Japan, and the U.S.; yohimbe, a sexual stimulant linked to heart and respiratory problems; bitter orange, whose ingredients have effects similar to those of ephedra; and chaparral, comfrey, germander, and kava, all known or likely causes of liver failure.
Unlike over-the-counter and prescription drugs, which must be proven safe and effective before they are placed on the market, dietary supplements can be marketed without any proof. Consumers Union is supporting legislation that would make it easier for the government to investigate and remove dangerous dietary supplements, as well as require pre-market safety testing for certain types of supplements.
CU supports reporting of adverse health events caused by supplements to the Federal Drug Administration. Currently, reporting is voluntary (it is estimated the FDA receives only 1 percent of adverse event information), which is not adequate to detect problems caused by dietary supplements. CU also wants manufacturers to submit proof of safety for their product if the FDA has received information suggesting that the product is causing serious health effects; require manufacturers of herbal products that act as stimulants to demonstrate they are safe before they can be sold; and require anabolic steroids and their precursors be subjected to regulation that restricts their availability under the Controlled Substances Act.