CHICAGO _ The high-voltage mixture of ephedra and caffeine was once considered such a dangerous combination that products containing both ingredients were pulled from store shelves in the early 1980s.
Today, athletes are regularly gulping down the ancient Chinese herb ephedra and caffeine in the form of legal dietary supplements, hoping to find a new springboard to glory.
Changes in federal law and an increasingly competitive sports culture have combined to fuel a boom in dietary supplements that many consider dangerous.
Increasingly, athletes are turning to products like Ripped Fuel, Ultimate Orange and Xenadrine, which are classified as supplements but contain the stimulant ephedrine, also known as ma huang.
Studies have found that some people who take ephedrine experience effects that can lead to a heart attack or stroke, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been trying to get it restricted for the last five years.
Makers of the supplements maintain the products are safe if used properly, and some manufacturers include voluntary warning labels about the potential health risks.
The popularity of the products is soaring. Changes in the laws in the mid-1990s made it nearly impossible for the FDA to regulate supplements such as ephedrine, androstenedione and creatine, and ever since, the industry has experienced an upsurge.
Unlike over-the-counter cold medicines, nutritional supplements_whether it's an herb or amino acid_do not have to be tested for safety …