A U.S. ban on sales of the herbal supplement ephedra took effect on Monday as a federal judge in New Jersey rejected a manufacturer's bid to keep the weight-loss aid on the market.
The nationwide ban is the first for a dietary supplement. The U.S. government links ephedra to heart attacks, strokes and deaths. Manufacturers insist the product is safe when used as directed.
U.S. District Judge Joel Pisano turned down a request from ephedra seller NVE Inc. for a temporary restraining order to stop the ban from going into effect.
NVE, a privately held New Jersey-based company, had argued the government failed to prove ephedra posed an "unreasonable risk," as a 1994 supplements law requires.
NVE is the maker of an ephedra product called Stacker 2. The company also sells an ephedra-free version.
Officials at the company could not immediately be reached for comment.
Health officials describe ephedra as a dangerous stimulant that raises blood pressure and stresses the circulatory system.
When the government announced the ephedra ban in December 2003, the Food and Drug Administration said it had reports of 155 deaths of people who took ephedra and more than 16,500 complaints.
Millions of Americans have taken ephedra to lose weight and boost athletic performance, but sales fell after risks were publicized and major retailers stopped selling it.
Attention grew after the February 2003 death of Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler. A Florida medical examiner said Bechler's use of an ephedra supplement contributed to his death.
Ephedra sales were about $500 million in 2003, a 60 percent drop from $1.25 billion in 2002, according to the Nutrition Business Journal, a trade publication.