The Food and Drug Administration believes there may be 273 people who fell ill, some fatally, after taking the popular over-the-counter stimulant ephedra.
While the agency wouldn't verify how many people died as a result of taking the herbal stimulant, often used to promote weight loss, earlier reports put the number at about 30. A source familiar with the latest cases, who asked not to be identified, says they include an additional 10 deaths.
The FDA has already tried once to bring ephedra under its regulatory control. In June 1997, the agency proposed a rule that would limit the amount of ephedra that could be added to dietary supplements. It also sought warning labels on the products cautioning against taking them for more than a week. At the time, the FDA submitted 133 cases of people who, it said, had been harmed by ephedra.
Ephedra, derived from an Asiatic shrub, contains ephedrine, a stimulant
that acts on the central nervous system to relax bronchial tubes. A synthetic
form of ephedrine is used in bronchodilators and over-the-counter medications
like Sudafed and Actifed, which fall under the FDA's watch.