Marguerite Dunne is a city girl and traveler. Visit her website at www.herbs-on-hudson.com or listen to her radio show, The Urban Herbalist, on www.wtbq.com. Marguerite was also the third place winner in The Herb Companion's essay contest, "Looking Forward to Herbs."
In 2003, one week after 23-year-old rookie Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Belcher died, Mark Blumenthal, the founder of the American Botanical Council, the première non-profit research and education organization that is “passionate about helping people live healthier lives through the responsible use of herbs, medicinal plants,” came on my radio show to dissect the misinformation being funneled to the press about the cause of death and the effects of the herb ephedra.
I had used ma huang, ephedra, a highly respected herb in Chinese traditional medicine with 5,000 years of empirical research, for 20 years every spring for my hay fever. One cup in the morning and my runny nose and itchy eyes dried up. One of the 200+ chemicals in ephedra is ephedrine, an “upper,” which 21st century snake oil salesmen have extracted to rev up their over-the-counter diet pills. (In a cup of the tea, you feel less of a “wake-up” than with a cup of decaf coffee.)
What we brought to light on-air was that Steve Belcher had a heart condition, was on four to five presciption drugs, had been told to lose ten pounds quickly, had hardly eaten for days, and he’d been standing in the 104 degree-Florida-sun for a couple of hours when he collapsed. Yet, the mainstream press kept playing it that the herb ephedra was “the bad guy.” The ABC is dedicated to providing accurate and reliable information for consumers about herbs, and Mark’s job regularly includes debunking these negative reports.
Who is the expert they’re going to call in to blast the medical practitioners who allowed Michael Jackson to take three different narcotics daily? He was on Demerol, Dilaudid and Viodin—any one of which could have been deadly. Michael Jackson was also on Soma, Xanax and Zoloft. Explain to me how this is a good health regimen. But the pharmaceutical industry buys too many ads in newspapers and on television, therefore, this issue’s investigative journalism will be meek and buried in the back pages.
By December of 2003, the FDA announced its intent to publish a rule banning the sale of ephedra-containing products. But the agency didn’t clarify the details; the subsequent ban only curtailed ephedrine from weight-loss products—there was no mention of the fact that ephedra is still the key ingredient in most OTC products for hay fever and colds, including Allegra and Sudaphed.
I am saddened by Michael Jackson’s death; let’s use this as a teachable moment to discuss good and bad health protocols with herbs and with drugs.