Q. I’ve heard that any day now the herb ephedra will become unavailable in the United States. Since I’ve used it for many years to help control my asthma, is there any way that I will still be able to obtain it?
A. The FDA recently issued a ruling prohibiting the sale of ephedra, also known as ma huang, in products marketed as dietary supplements as of April 12, 2004. However, there’s good news: you will still be able to use ephedra as long as it is prescribed within the scope of traditional Chinese herbal medicine.
The FDA ruling is in response to some reported overuse and abuse of ephedra, which was often advertised to promote weight loss.
The doses people were able to purchase over the counter were considered potentially dangerous.
Excessive intake of the herb can cause a range of side effects, including insomnia, anxiety, strokes, increases in blood pressure and heart rate and heart attacks.
According to the FDA, a number of deaths in the United States were linked to overuse of ephedra.
In Chinese herbal medicine, ephedra has been used safely and effectively for thousands of years in the treatment of colds, flus, and asthma.
It has traditionally been prescribed in small doses, combined with other herbs, to achieve a variety of medicinal effects.
For instance, one common Chinese herbal formula which first appeared in a medical classic known as Shang Han Lun during the Han dynasty (202 B.C.-220 A.D.), contains eight different herbs, with ephedra only 5 percent of the formula’s total composition.
The other herbs in the formula help ease coughing, clear heat in the lungs, and eliminate mucous.
The new FDA regulations will help protect the public from taking too much of an herb that in smaller doses can have potent medicinal benefits, and in large doses can be harmful to your health.
The ephedra controversy demonstrates that herbs can be misused when removed from an ancient system of medicine and marketed by companies more interested in profits than public health.
Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, such as licensed acupuncturists, who are trained to know how and when to use this powerful herb, will be able to continue prescribing it in appropriate doses for specific conditions.
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com