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Judge Strikes Down Ephedra Ban

A U.S. government judge struck down a ban on ephedra, the once-popular weight-loss aid that was yanked from the market after it was linked to dozens of deaths — including that of Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler.

The judge ruled on Thursday in favor of a Utah company that challenged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's ban. Utah-based Nutraceutical claimed in its lawsuit that ephedra "has been safely consumed" for hundreds of years.

Supplements that included ephedra have been widely used for weight loss and bodybuilding, but have been linked to 155 deaths. The FDA ordered the substance off the market in April 2004.

Judge Tena Campbell's ruling sends the matter back to the FDA "for further rulemaking consistent with the court's opinion" and keeps the agency from enforcement action against the companies.

FDA officials did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Company president Bruce Hough said the decision is about "protecting the public's access to safe and effective dietary supplements."

Bechler was 23 when he died after a major league baseball spring training workout in February 2003, sent his body temperature to 108 degrees F.

The medical examiner who performed the autopsy said the pitcher had a history of borderline high blood pressure and an abnormal liver. The medical examiner also said that ephedrine — the active substance in the plant ephedra — played a major role in the pitcher's death.

In an effort to quickly shed the weight he gained during the offseason, Bechler took over-the-counter diet pills containing ephedra. The drug had been banned by the International Olympic Committee, NFL and U.S. college sports, but not by Major League Baseball.