The House Committee on Energy and Commerce opens a two-day hearing on ephedra today, likely to attract considerable scrutiny of the supplement industry as a whole.
Prior to the hearing's opening, several reports had already emerged in the national media suggesting that evidence to back the safety of ephedra would be refuted, and that products made by Metabolife, due to testify, had been linked to serious side effects in young consumers.
A testimony to be made by Marcia Crosse, the General Accounting Office's acting director for public health and science issues, said that Metabolife's ephedra supplements had likely been responsible for serious side effects among young people, according to a Washington Post report.
Crosse admitted the reports contained "limited information," but the pattern of side effects was consistent with reports gathered by the FDA about ephedra products sold by many different companies, she told the paper.
Other reports found holes in the evidence backing ephedra. A study provided by industry to show the safety of the herb, taken to aid weight loss, was not sufficient to support its availability on the market, according to memo from Charles Prettyman of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, cited by Reuters.
Makers of ephedra still insist it is safe when taken as directed. However some states have already banned the herb, thought to be responsible for a number of serious side effects, including death.
The FDA recently proposed using a warning label that mentions heart attack and death among possible side effects. The agency has since had some 16,000 comments on the proposal, suggest some reports.
A webcast of the hearing will be available here.