No Compromise on Principles
No Compromise on Principles

he recent decision by the U.S. District Court in Utah (see page 27) in favor of exempting low-dose ephedra is encouraging for advocates of life enhancement, life extension, and a positive future—but not for public servants such as Senator Edward Kennedy: “If F.D.A. can’t take a supplement as dangerous as ephedra off the market, then Congress needs to change the law to allow it to do so.”1 Then there’s Dr. Julian Bailes, chairman of neurosurgery at West Virginia University School of Medicine, who said that the ruling was “a green light to abuse this substance again.” Summing up the opposition is an editorial in The New York Times, “Time to Ban Ephedra”:2

The recent disappointing federal court decision that the Food and Drug Administration lacks the authority to issue a blanket ban on ephedra, a dangerous herbal supplement, is a clarion call to the Bush administration and Congress to change the 1994 law on dietary supplements. The law should be amended to give health regulators clear and unambiguous power to take harmful products off the market, and to require supplement makers to report any adverse reactions. …

The ruling leaves the ephedra ban intact for products containing doses above 10 milligrams. But by dismissing the F.D.A.’s voluminous evidence of potential danger, the court set an unrealistically high threshold for agency action, and that could undermine the ban even for higher-dose ephedra products.

Aside from the difficulty of separating politics from expertise when determining whether something is harmful—and what the idea of giving the FDA “clear and unambiguous power” means for our health freedom—the Times is totally wrong about the FDA’s “voluminous evidence of potential danger”—whatever that means.

Renowned Danish researcher Arne Astrup, M.D., Ph.D., an expert witness at the August 2000 ephedra hearings, testified under oath that ephedra is safer than food. Further, Dr. Astrup testified that the FDA reports on the published literature misrepresented his data on the safety of ephedrine (and caffeine) and that these misrepresentations were used to support the FDA’s allegations concerning ephedra. Said Dr. Astrup, “I think our data and results are mischaracterized, and the presentation is flawed and distorted … giving a very negative picture of the safety profile of the combination of ephedrine/caffeine, which is not supported by our research.” In other words, the FDA lied, and the Times is too dumb, too blind, or too ideologically corrupted by its view of the “proper” role of government to allow the truth to surface in its publication.

Why has ephedra created such a concordance of agreement among most “opinion makers” and politicians? The answer is complex, but it is undoubtedly to be found by understanding the bonded interests between these groups in a growing media-politico complex that beats the drum for centralized control and giving ever more authority to Washington. This view insults the intelligence of most people, because it says, in effect, there is no conceivable problem that cannot be solved by politically appointed “experts,” who need to have the power to force us to do what’s in our best interest. It’s nauseating.

One thing is sure: principles mean little to those opposed to ephedra. In all their obscene posturing, why else would politicians such as Kennedy continually ask us to compromise, and give up ever more of our health freedom in the process? Sadly, there are “friends” of health freedom who buy the idea of compromise, saying that the battle lines in the fight to protect our health rights should be limited to issues that have widespread public support … that to do otherwise would be to bring the full might of the state down on us. These compromisers say that the ephedra battle is already lost, so why antagonize the press, further empower the opposition, and risk the chance of losing the protection of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA)?

But it is precisely principles upon which we must stand in confronting those who would dismantle DSHEA, because the main point about the ephedra ban is the FDA’s attempt to rule on efficacy. This is the precedent and the violation of principle; safety is not as burning an issue. It was not Congress’ intent in creating DSHEA to have supplements treated as drugs, but to have them treated as foods. Therefore, the FDA’s ban on ephedra because it is not “effective” violates an important principle inherent in DSHEA.

With friends such as those who mourn our recent victory in Utah, who needs enemies? Lovers of health freedom should rally around and celebrate the importance of principle, as the Founding Fathers did so honorably. Paraphrasing Patrick Henry’s famous speech: Give us health liberty, or give us death (which will surely befall us a lot faster than would otherwise be the case).


  1. Harris G. Judge’s decision lifts ban on sale of ephedra in Utah. The New York Times, April 15, 2005.
  2. Anonymous. Editorial: “Time to Ban Ephedra.” The New York Times, April 21, 2005.

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