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JUDGE WON'T OVERTURN EPHEDRA BAN.

Byline: Brent Hopkins Staff Writer

Selling and manufacturing ephedra became illegal on Monday, as a federal judge denied a challenge to delay the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's ban of the popular but deadly nutritional supplement.

With ephedra off the table as a diet aid, the supplement industry has offered up its old standbys as replacements. Theobromine, green tea extract, Garcinia cambogia and the old-mainstay of caffeine will now be the key fighters in Americans' quest for slimmer waistlines, replacing the popular supplement linked to more than 100 deaths.

After the FDA announced the ban - subsequently delayed by legal challenges - at the end of 2003, the industry has been rolling out a series of ephedra-free supplements to replace the supplement often referred to as ``legalized speed.''

While there's no shortage of replacements, most doubt they'll be as popular as ephedra, which sped up users' metabolisms, albeit with sometimes deadly results.

``The other supplements have been around for a very long time and were not substantial enough to stand on their own,'' said Dr. Michael Hirt, founder of the Center for Integrative Medicine in Tarzana. ``They were supporting actors boosted into a leading role, but they're not ready for prime time.''

Chatsworth-based Natrol Inc., which manufactures a wide range of nutritional supplements, ended its ephedra production several years ago for economic reasons. It now sells supplements using other ingredients, including Chitosan and Chromium Picolinate, to address weight loss. The company did not return calls seeking comment on Monday, but president and chief executive officer Elliott Balbert called ephedra ``a sacrificial cow'' in a past interview.

Though he tells customers they're best served by watching their diet and exercising, Joe Grochalski, manager of Vitamin Barn in Canoga Park, has taken to promoting green tea extract and Garcinia Cambogia as ephedra alternatives. He hasn't carried the now-banned stimulant since December, which has caused a noticeable dip in sales.

``There's a lot of other products that work just as well, but they don't sell as well because people don't get the energy boost they did with ephedra,'' he said. ``It's already affected us. We used to sell quite a bit of it.''

Barry Pascal, a pharmacist and owner of of Northridge Pharmacy, never carried ephedra because he believed it was dangerous to sell over the counter. Instead, he's opted for caffeine-based supplements, which he thinks consumers will be less likely to embrace than ephedra. He thinks that the ban places excessive restrictions on consumers and would have rather seen regulation requiring them to consult with pharmacists before obtaining the supplement.

``The problem with ephedra was that people who shouldn't have been on a diet were taking it to lose a few pounds,'' he said. ``I'm not in favor of taking away people's rights, but I am in favor of protecting patients.''

With more and more consumers watching their weight through popular diet plans, such as the Atkins and South Beach plans, some stores are opting to play up foods, rather than supplements. General Nutritional Centers Inc., which runs about 5,000 GNC stores nationwide, dropped ephedra last summer, pushing its Total Lean supplements, which use guarana seed and other extracts, and Atkins bars.

Though no one wants ephedra back on the market without regulations, medical experts and vendors alike agree it will be difficult to replace.

``Ephedra has no chemical cousin, so its loss leaves a hole in traditional therapies that won't be able to fill,'' said Hirt. ``It's unfortunate everyone has to suffer because some people used it inappropriately. America's still looking for the one knockout supplement that'll cure all the problems.''

Brent Hopkins, (818) 713-3738

brent.hopkins(at)dailynews.com

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EPHEDRA BAN GOES INTO EFFECT

SOURCES: Food and Drug Administration; Harvard School of Public Health

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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Apr 13, 2004
Words:630
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