Health Briefs


Health & Fitness

August 08, 2004|By Los Angeles Times

Ephedra's gone, but new herbal products raise alarm

Less than four months after the herb ephedra was pulled from the market, government regulators and scientists have become increasingly alarmed about a new generation of herbal weight-loss products, specifically those containing bitter orange.

Like ephedra, the stimulant is used by people seeking to lose weight. Products containing the ingredient have been widely available only for a little more than a year, but already bitter orange has been linked to 169 reactions in people who took it, the Food and Drug Administration says. The agency is monitoring reports of problems with such ephedra-free products closely and is planning studies to explore their safety.

Extracts from the peel of the bitter orange contain synephrine, a substance similar to ephedra and pseudoephedrine, which is found in many over-the-counter cold remedies. Like ephedra, bitter orange may contribute to weight loss by increasing metabolism. But while ephedra raises heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure, it is unclear whether bitter orange acts similarly. Some animal studies suggest similar effects, which could make the herb particularly risky for people with arrhythmias and high blood pressure.

Synthetic hormone studied for ability to protect, darken skin

Someday, there may be a way to protect against sunburn and get a healthy, skin-protecting tan at the same time. Researchers at the University of Arizona say they have found a way to use a synthetic hormone to reduce skin damage in people with sensitive skin.

The study, published in the Archives of Dermatology, found that the synthetic hormone could be combined safely with short exposures to sunlight or UV-B light to get a darker tan -- and more melanin in the skin, said Dr. Robert Dorr, professor of pharmacology at the University of Arizona.

Usually, "people go out into the sun, get a little sun damage, and then that damage signals the production of melanin," which darkens and protects the skin, he said. The study used Melanotan-1, a synthetic version of a pigmentation hormone found in animals and in pregnant women. It can darken skin and produce melanin without sunlight. The 11 people who participated in the study received daily injections of the hormone for two weeks. Dorr said a time-release injection could be developed that could be given every few months at a dermatologist's office.

-- Los Angeles Times

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