How Safe is Xenadrine
The real skinny on weight-loss supplements
Claims about diet pills aren't always suspect. Some do help the body
burn fat. But marketing tactics pill-makers use can be misleading, and experts
insist that diet pills are rarely the best way to lose weight.
It's been said many times, many ways: Good eating habits and plenty of
exercise are the best ways to get and stay slim. Nevertheless, the allure of
taking pills and watching the fat melt away may be hard to resist, especially
for people who are really struggling. "These type of products are just
feeding into that desperation," says Sheah Rarback, dietitian and
spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "Nothing is easy or
effortless and guaranteed when it comes to our weight, unfortunately."
What's more, slimming down with pills may put some people in danger.
One of the most popular weight-loss supplements in the United States --
considered a "nutritional supplement" and not a drug by current FDA
standards -- is Xenadrine, made by the New Jersey company Cytodyne
The main ingredient in its original formula, Xenadrine RFA-1, is ephedrine,
derived from the ephedra plant. Ephedrine increases metabolism, the process by
which fat cells are broken down and converted to energy, and it suppresses
The effects of ephedrine are like those of amphetamines, also known as
speed, and for some they can be deadly. Ephedrine can raise one's heart rate
and blood pressure, so people with heart conditions and high blood pressure are
warned against taking it. According to FDA records obtained by the watchdog
group Public Citizen, ephedrine was linked to 32 heart attacks, 69 strokes, and
altogether 81 deaths from 1993 to 2000. In June 2002, the group claimed that
more than 100 ephedrine-related deaths had been reported to the FDA.
Xenadrine isn't the only weight-loss supplement that contains ephedrine.
Other well known brands include Metabolife and Twinlab Ripped Fuel.
Xenadrine gained more notoriety in 1998, when an American woman slammed her
car into another vehicle at 100 mph, killing two Canadian teens. She was tried
on criminal charges, but in 1999 a British Columbia Supreme Court judge found
her not guilty by reason of mental illness. She had been taking Xenadrine,
which defense attorneys said made her psychotic.
The product's warning label applies not only to cardiovascular problems, but
also to the mind-altering effects ephedrine can have. People who are being
treated for psychiatric problems or who may be at risk for mental illness are
warned not to take it.
Ephedrine has also been linked to the heatstroke death of 23-year-old
Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler this February. A Florida medical
examiner has said Bechler's use of a weight-loss supplement containing ephedra
contributed to his death. Watchdog groups, medical associations, and the FDA
are calling for stricter warning labels or an outright ban on supplements