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Know What's in Diet Pills

Posted - Mar. 24, 2004 at 6:40 a.m.



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The little dizzy head rushes. That's what I remember the most about my five-month dalliance with the herbal supplement Xenadrine in the fall of 2000.

The head rushes would come several times a day. Anytime I sat in one spot for more than 10 minutes and tried to get up, my vision would go black and I'd have to steady myself before walking.

Sure, it was weird, maybe even a little trippy, but I was too busy burning off 30 pounds to really care.

All I knew is I popped two pills in the morning and two more in the afternoon and I could go out and run five miles without so much as touching a rice cake. In three months I lost 30 pounds.

Sure I modified my diet. More Slim Fast, less Super Sized fries.

I'd dieted before, though. I hadn't taken pills before.

I started popping them on the advice of a good friend who told me if I took them, I could run and run and run.

And he was right. I ran.

Anywhere from 40-50 miles a week. In the course of a month, my personal record in the 5K dropped. I registered to run the Naples Daily News Half Marathon. I started coming home with second-place finishes in my age group at local races.

I was slim. I was fast. And I was absolutely taking a reckless chance with my life.

I remember going home to Maryland for Christmas. Hadn't seen my family in six months. I was 30 pounds lighter, which I thought was great but to them seemed a little odd. They smiled when they saw me, though they stared a little longer than normal.

It wasn't until later, when I saw the pictures, that I knew why they were staring. My cheeks were hollow. I looked gaunt, and not in the healthy runner way.

At the time, though, I didn't care.

I was wearing size-33 jeans. I could see my feet. I could catch the guy in front of me during a race.

Sure, I read the bottle. I saw the spot on the label that said Xenadrine wasn't approved by the Food and Drug Administration. I saw the word "ephedra" in the list of ingredients.

I didn't know what ephedra was. I had vaguely heard it referred to as "legalized speed" and that description seemed about right.

If I were smart I would have hopped on the Internet and done some research. If I had, I would have discovered that ephedra has plenty of uses, not all of them bad.

You'll find small doses in many cold remedies, a way to jump- start your metabolism to help you fight off the flu. It's also alleged to be a contributing factor in the deaths of numerous users, either from heart attacks or stroke.

Ephedra can place so much stress on your heart that, if you don't watch it, it'll simply overwhelm your system.

In families with heart trouble -- families like mine -- you are putting yourself at significant risk by taking it.

Yet I wanted to be thin. I wanted to run fast. And there was little doubt in my mind that taking the pills helped me run faster.

I wouldn't say I relied on the pills to run or was physically addicted to them, but there was a difference in my energy level after taking two an hour before a race.

I'd love to tell you that I had some kind of epiphany. That I had some weird physical side effect (besides the head rushes) that told me I should stop.

That wasn't it. I stopped because I didn't feel like taking it anymore. I just got sick of it. Even the smell of the bottle would make me nauseous.

Without the pills, I kept running and a year later set a p.r. in the 5K while training for a marathon. And to be honest, I felt a little better.

Whenever I feel a little sluggish, I'm tempted to head to one of the local health stores and grab a bottle.

Thankfully, I can't. The federal government recently banned the sale of over-the-counter supplements containing ephedra, though there are ephedra-free versions of supplements like Xenadrine now on the shelves.

I'm not saying the pills are evil. I'm not saying they'll kill you.

If, however, you're starting a new exercise program or are trying to lose a little weight, do some research. Talk to a doctor or a nutritionist.

Head rushes are cool -- but only when catching your breath after a run.

Will Graves writes for the Naples Daily News in Florida. His column is distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

(C) 2004 The Cincinnati Post. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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