Today, the FDA today banned Ephedra, a substance that has no documented beneficial effects and some documented side effects:
Manufacturers of the supplement insist their product is safe when taken as directed. But FDA and Health and Human Services Department officials have been saying for months that they would like to ban ephedra and were building their case so there could be little dissent.
One interesting thing about the ban is that it’s an admission by the administration that self-regulation by industry participants doesn’t always work — though such self-regulation remains the preferred choice in the environmental arena.
A second interesting factor is that Ephedra became so widespread in the first place due to Orrin Hatch’s fervid support of the “Homeopathic” or “Herbal” industry, which eventually lead to passage of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health Education Act, which exempted herbal supplement makers from proving the efficacy of their products. No double-blind testing needed. (*)
(*) Bob Park explains the virtues of double-blind testing:
The most important discovery in the history of medicine was the randomized double-blind test. It allows us to find out what works and what doesn’t. So far, herbals are in the “doesn’t” category: St. John’s Wort doesn’t relieve depression, but it does interfere with some cancer drugs; echinacea doesn’t ward off colds and flu; ephedra causes frequent injuries and even death; and this week we learn that ginkgo biloba doesn’t enhance memory in people over 60.