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Herb doctors under fire for diet drug containing ephedrineMedical community raises safety issue   
  • By Choi Gwang-seok
  • Published 2017.03.24 13:07
  • Updated 2017.03.24 13:07
  • comments 0

Some oriental medical clinics are causing controversy by selling herb diet medicines added with mahuang, a substance banned in the United States because of side effects.

The dispute started when a TV station recently reported cases of damage resulting from herb diet drugs containing mahuang, the herbal form of the stimulant ephedra.

Some oriental medical clinics sell diet herbal drugs containing ephedrine, banned in the United States for causing serious side effects.

Right after the report, the Association of Korean Medicine (AKOM) pushed back, saying, “People can suffer from severe side effects if they illegally buy mahuang in healthcare centers and have it,” or “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows people to take ephedrine up to 150㎎ a day.”

The association added that the Society of Korean Medicine for Obesity Research is also recommending herb doctors to prescribe only 4.5-7.5 grams of mahuang a day, and for maximum six months when they use it as a diet drug.

The (Western) medical community, however, raised an issue with this practice, stressing these oriental medical doctors do not understand the graveness of this problem.

On Wednesday, the Korea Medical Association (KMA) pointed out safety problems, saying, “Mahuang causes side effects, including irregular heartbeats, myocardial infarction, stroke, and sudden death. And many research papers have indicated even the recommended dose can generate serious side effects.”

According to KMA, two prestigious international medical journals -- the New England Journal of Medicine and Neurology – reported on the side effects caused by mahuang in 2000 and 2003, respectively. Worse yet, a U.S. baseball player died suddenly during training because of his alleged overdose of ephedrine, mahuang’s primary ingredient, it said. After the incident, FDA halted the sales of health supplementary food that included mahuang in 2004.

In Korea, however, Oriental doctors are using a considerable amount of mahuang in prescribing herbal diet medicines, the KMA noted.

“According to the ban on the use of mahuang announced by FDA in 2004, Chinese doctors and acupuncturists can use mahuang only for patients with asthma, chronic coughing, and headache,” it said. “And the U.S. agency prohibited its use for purposes of reducing weight, strengthening muscles, and improving athletic ability.”

Recalling that the daily ephedrine dose of 150 mg as alleged by herbal doctors is only for the purpose of expanding bronchial tubes for a short period, the KMA called for its Oriental counterpart to “provide logical foundation” for their allegation that the U.S. FDA allows the daily dose of 150 mg.

“We are also curious what the basis is for the Oriental doctors’ allegation that the continuous use of mahuang for six months does not result in any safety problems,” the KMA said. “If there have been any new research findings related to ephedrine since 2004, please tell us.”

The Western doctors’ group went on to say, “In the United States, Chinese doctors and acupuncturists are using mahuang only for treating asthma, chronic coughing, and headache under the FDA’s approval, not for weight reduction, muscle enhancement, and athletic ability promotion.”

The association then reiterated its call for Oriental doctors to provide a scientific basis for using mahuang as a diet drug.


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