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CNN Saturday Morning News

Interview With Dr. Sandra Fryhofer

Aired August 17, 2002 - 08:19   ET


CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: The pills contain ephedra and they promise fast, easy weight loss, if only. But at what cost? The Justice Department's investigating the makers of the weight loss pill called Metabolife and the company now admits that its product isn't safe for everyone.
Joining us now for more perspective on the ephedra controversy is Dr. Sandra Fryhofer. We call her Dr. Sandy and you know why now. She's an Atlanta internist.

Thank you so much for being with us.



A lot of concern about this. Now, the drug, which is ephedra...


CALLAWAY: ... is in other things besides Metabolife, right?

FRYHOFER: The drug ephedra is actually also known as mahung (ph). And this is a dietary supplement that's promoted as a weight loss product and is also promoted as a performance and energy enhancer for athletes. But it's also been linked to heart attacks, stroke and sudden death.

CALLAWAY: You know, it makes your heart beat fast. What are some of the symptoms if you, when you're taking it? What does it do to you?

FRYHOFER: Well, ephedra has sort of an amphetamine like punch. And it will increase the heart rate. It increases the pulse. It opens up the bronchial tubes, making it easier for the lungs to get oxygen. And, in fact, in China they actually use this to treat asthma and bronchitis. It also constricts blood vessels. So if you think about that and maybe think about someone who doesn't realize that they have a little something wrong with their heart valve or have a little weakness in one of the vessels in their brain, it's easy to understand how people can get into trouble.

And I think we have a list of some of the serious adverse effects that have been associated with ephedra. Again, we mention heart attack, stroke, sudden death. It also can cause difficulty sleeping, insomnia, tremulousness, seizures and the list goes on and on. CALLAWAY: Now, let's talk about it. Ephedra is the drug. So why is it not regulated? Is it because it's being sold not as a drug but as sort of a supplement or something you could buy in a health food store?

FRYHOFER: You are exactly right, Catherine. And I think what happens is, you know, we, Americans, we get sort of spoiled by the FDA and we think about how the FDA controls and regulates over the counter drugs and prescription drugs. But these dietary supplements are a different story totally.

Under federal law, the FDA cannot halt the sale of these supplements unless the FDA proves that there's danger. And the burden of proof is on the FDA. And another thing that I think people don't realize is that when one of these supplements goes on sale, there's no guarantee that what they're saying they do they will actually do and there's no one watching the purity.

So they're much different than what we think about with our medications.

CALLAWAY: All right, Dr. Sandy, say you want to lose weight. Everybody says they want to lose weight. I call you up, I say I'm thinking about taking one of these pills that you can buy over the counter. What do you, you know, what do you think about this? What do you tell your patients?

FRYHOFER: Catherine, I tell you, you sound like one of my patients. But usually they don't just call up. They'll come in my office, bring me a couple of bottles of them and say this is what I'm taking, is it OK? And, of course, I think we've talked about the mahung. It will work. It will help people lose weight. It will suppress the appetite. There was a recent study that was published in one of the obesity journals documenting this. And, but when you look at the study a little closer, they used this medication versus placebo -- actually, not medication, the supplement which was combining ephedra with caffeine versus a placebo. And the people on the ephedra caffeine lost five pounds. The placebo lost two and a half pounds over six months.

So it's actually a lot of risk for just two and a half pounds. But some of these other diet supplements contain things other than just ephedra. And I think we have a list of some of those for you. There's some rather exotic names. And if we don't show you the list, you may not be able to pick up on what we're saying.

Just about all of them do contain caffeine. That's a big one. Another product that's in there is one called guarana. And this is actually just strong caffeine. There's a, the word is that the Brazilian Indians used to make a stimulating beverage out of this. And it's about twice as strong as coffee.

Another ingredient is garcinia. Now, this is supposed to keep the body from storing fat. It doesn't do it, doesn't work. But, I'll tell you one thing, it's going to keep you regular. Because what they've found is that garcinia is a strong laxative. CALLAWAY: Dr. Sandy.

FRYHOFER: It can cause abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.

CALLAWAY: Now, I just want to say that I know the people out there who want to lose weight, they didn't hear all the other stuff that you said that it's going to do to them. All they heard was that you're going to lose weight. So, you know, they need to keep all that in mind.

FRYHOFER: Well, in this study, in this study the doctors who did the study said that this is a medication that should be used only under a doctor's care.

CALLAWAY: All right.

FRYHOFER: Although it's not a medication, it's supplement, it really is a medication and it does have some side effects that we're very concerned about.

CALLAWAY: All right.

FRYHOFER: So go out and exercise and cut down on what you eat. That's the best way to go.

CALLAWAY: Thank you, Dr. Sandy.

And talk to your doctor if you plan on taking any of that stuff, right?

FRYHOFER: That's right.

CALLAWAY: All right, thank you.