Ephedra's poisoning profile is striking," noted Dr. Jess Benson, director of the New Mexico Poison & Drug Information Center and assistant professor of pharmacy practice and clinical toxicology in the UNM College of Pharmacy.
"Although it is typical to see many unintentional childhood poisonings from ephedra, about a third of our ephedra calls involved adults who were taking therapeutic doses of this herbal supplement," Dr. Benson continued. "Often these individuals called us complaining of palpitations, dizziness, tremor and anxiety. It is unusual to see so many calls triggered by a product's adverse effects."
Ephedra made national headlines last week when a Florida medical examiner said the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler may have been linked to Bechler's use of an ephedra-based diet pill.
A plant-derived dietary supplement, ephedra also is known by the names Ma Huang, Herbal Ecstasy, Sea Grape, Teamster's Tea, Yellow Astringent, Yellow Horse and Joint Fir. It is marketed as a natural therapy for asthma, weight loss, obesity and enhancement of athletic performance.
Ephedra contains at least three active components - ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine. These alkaloids cause vasoconstriction, elevated heart rate, and dilation of the airways, said Dr. Benson, adding that in high doses they can cause elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, tremor, high blood sugar, stroke and heart attack.
"Ephedra is not for everyone," warned Dr. Benson. "Individuals who experience side effects should stop using it. Those who have a history of hypertension, angina, heart disease, diabetes, anorexia, hyperthyroidism or anxiety should not use it. Individuals who are unsure whether to start using ephedra should check with their physician first."
The New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center is part of the University of New Mexico College of Pharmacy and a service of the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center. The Center provides statewide 24-hour emergency telephone assistance during possible poisonings. To reach the New Mexico Poison & Drug Information Center, call 1-800-222-1222.
Contact: Lynn Melton, 272-3322