Response Essay At the core of the essay “Are We Dying to Be Thin?” is the issue of government regulation of what are commonly known as dietary supplements because they are derived from natural substances like plants and herbs and thus not tested and regulated as drugs (although prior to 1994 they were). In light of the controversy detailed in this essay, discuss whether the Food and Drug Administration should or should not test and regulate dietary supplements like ephedra discussed in the essay. Should they be treated as pharmaceuticals, as prescription drugs, and required to prove their safety through extensive testing like they were previously and like prescription drugs are now? Cite specifics from the essay as you develop your discussion. Remember that this is an essay and should have an introduction with a thesis statement, body paragraphs with details that support the thesis, and a concluding paragraph.
Are We Dying to Be Thin?
The makers of the wildly popular rapid weight-loss supplement Xenadrine RFA-1 like to brag in ads that their product “makes national news.” Last week’s headlines cannot have been what they had in mind. Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler died in Florida after heatstroke drove his temperature to 108 degrees. Struggling to lose weight, the twenty-three-year-old had been taking Xenadrine RFA-1, according to Orioles officials. Broward County medical examiner Joshua Perper put the ephedra-packed pill at the top of his list of possible factors in Bechler’s death.Shane Freedman, general counsel for Xenadrine’s manufacturer, Cytodyne Technologies, calls the link “extremely premature and bordering on reckless,” but for years, watchdog groups and physicians have been saying the same thing about the hype surrounding ephedra. Bechler’s death has reignited an intense debate about the safety of the herb, one that began almost as soon as its popularity mushroomed thanks to aggressive advertising in 1994—the same year that the FDA lost power to regulate dietary supplements. Since then, more than 1,400 adverse reactions and 100 deaths have been blamed on ephedra-based supplements—and some 12 million dieters and athletes want to know if they are at risk.There is little doubt about ephedra’s popularity. The herb is found in all four of America’s best-selling weight-loss products—which together generate more than $161 million in annual sales—and is a hit with athletes, particularly bodybuilders, despite being banned by many sports leagues (but not Major League Baseball). Athletes are especially prone to ephedra abuse, notes nutritionist Rehan Jalali, head of the Supplement Research Foundation, a fitness-information center. Teens are more likely to ignore guidelines and overuse the products, too. Since most ephedra pills aren’t meant for children under eighteen, health stores like GNC have recently started carding potential buyers. Minors can still get their hands on ephedra, though. The cheap Yellow Jackets brand was a favorite of sixteen-year-old Illinois football player Sean Riggins. He died last year; the coroner blamed an ephedra-induced heart attack. The brand is now banned, but others still crowd shelves.Athletes and teens are not the only ones taking chances.
Though healthy users who take recommended doses are probably safe, many doctors say the herb poses a serious risk for patients with hypertension, heart disease, overactive thyroids, or diabetes. Bechler belonged to the first group. His high blood pressure, combined with rapid weight loss, may have weakened his body, which was already strained by ephedra and workouts in the Florida heat.Ephedra’s potential danger is a function of its active ingredient, ephedrine, which stimulates beta receptors on fat cells. This increases metabolism, causing the body to burn more fat. Heart cells also carry beta receptors. When combined with caffeine—as it almost always is in supplements–ephedrine stimulates those cells, too, raising the heart rate and blood pressure and sometimes causing insomnia, an irregular heartbeat or even a heart attack or stroke.Bad publicity, skyrocketing insurance rates, and GNC’s carding policy have convinced many makers to pull their ephedra products and introduce new alternatives in the past few months. All are heavy on caffeine; some also contain substances similar to ephedra, like bitter orange and octopamine. The new products may be safer than ephedra, and anyone can buy them, but they are largely untested and their huge caffeine loads are not heart-healthy. Jalali, who sometimes uses ephedra, is switching to several new substitutes. Everyone else could do the same, but there is only one sure way to avoid risk: not taking weight-loss supplements at all.
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