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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 4, 2002

Army, Air Force Exchange joins ban on ephedra

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service has banned the sale of popular ephedra-related dietary supplements in Hawai'i and elsewhere in the wake of reported adverse health reactions and the death of a Texas soldier.

"AAFES has made a business decision to remove all ephedra-based nutritional supplements from the retail stock assortment, as well as the concession nutrition stores (GNC, etc.)," said sales directorate vice president Margaret A. Burgess in a memo.

The ban, which went into effect Sunday and is applicable to "worldwide retail and services," affects popular "fat-burner" and muscle-building supplements such as Hydroxicut, Xenadrine and Stacker, which contain ma huang or ephedra, a naturally occurring form of the drug ephedrine.

AAFES is the latest military merchandiser to ban the sale of ephedra-related products. The Marine Corps already bans sale of the stimulant at its exchanges, as does the Navy, with the exception of a GNC store at Pearl Harbor where additional information about ephedra must be provided.

Citing the death of a soldier at Fort Hood, Texas, during a run in April, the U.S. Army's Training and Doctrine Command recently asked that ephedra products be removed from AAFES shelves for six months pending a Department of Health and Human Services study of the stimulant.

"One side effect of ephedra is that it increases the heart rate and puts more strain on the heart," Dr. (Col.) Bernard DeKoning, a Training Doctrine Command surgeon, told the command's news service. "Soldiers participate in physically strenuous activity, oftentimes in harsh environmental conditions such as high heat and humidity. If a cardiac stimulant such as ephedra is in the bloodstream, the heart and the rest of the body may not withstand the strain."

According to the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, more than 100 deaths have been reported to the Food and Drug Administration in people using ephedra-containing products. The National Football League and more than 20 states ban or restrict the stimulant. Some popular brands are now being made without ephedra.

Neither Tripler Army Medical Center nor the Honolulu Medical Examiner's office report any ephedra-related deaths.

The Marine Corps took all products containing ephedrine alkaloids off the shelves of its exchanges and base nutritional outlets as of Feb. 1, 2001.

Officials cited health risks for use of the products "without adequate hydration or during times of extreme temperatures," said Marine Corps Base Hawaii spokesman 1st Lt. Kent Robbins.

Honolulu Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Kanthi von Guenthner said ephedra use combined with the stress of exercise could push the heart into an irregular rhythm, which can be fatal.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.