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Ephedra Product Side Effects and Benefits

Ephedra Product Side Effects and Benefits

Ephedra has been used medicinally for thousands of years by ancient and modern day societies as a treatment for various lung and breathing conditions. However, recently Ephedra has received a lot of bad press for its recently discovered side effects and products containing ephedra have been banned in the United States.

How Ephedra Works

The main chemical compound in Ephedra (or Ma Huang, as it is commonly known by many) is ephedrine. Ephedrine is a potent chemical that works by stimulating the nervous system, dilating bronchial tubes, elevating blood pressure, and increasing heart rate.

The amount of ephedrine that ephedra contains varies greatly, accounting for anywhere from 30 to 90 of all alkaloid ingredients in any given sample. This extreme variability of ephedrine dosage can cause many problems and relatively severe side effects.

Side Effects and Precautions

Ephedra gained its primary fame as a weight loss drug. It is not, however, considered by many healthcare professionals and medical researchers as a safe herb to help people loose weight. In most cases, the doses used for weight loss are far beyond the 150 mg per 24 hours safety limit that has been established. It is now believed that higher doses cause many amphetamine-like side effects, including dry mouth to more severe problems including heart failure.

Additionally, too high of ephedra levels in the system may cause severe problems including anxiety, headaches, restlessness, high blood pressure, and even insomnia.

Ephedra is considered an amphetamine; like other amphetamines, it is addictive. When individuals stop using ephedra after prolonged use, they may experience withdrawal symptoms including cold sweats, mood swings, and heart palpitations. When used to lose weight, a common response to its removal from the system is binge eating. As a result, all the weight previously lost is almost immediately gained back.

Most notable is Ephedra's potentially dangerous effect of overstimulating the central nervous system, raising blood pressure, and increasing heart rate. Moreover, ephedra has been used in making illegal street drugs such as methamphetamine. Ephedra has been the center of major controversy between the herb industry and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since the 1990s.

Finally, strong evidence indicates that Ephedra may react badly with a variety of medical conditions including with high blood pressure, heart problems, glaucoma, hyperthyroidism, and diabetes.

Currently, Ephedra is banned in the United States.

Supporting Literature

Ang-Lee MK, Moss J, Yuan C-S. Herbal medicines and perioperative care [review]. JAMA. 2001;286(2):208-216.
Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998:125-126.
Bahner DR, Frenia ML, Augenstein WL. Theophylline toxicity from an over-the-counter preparation. J Emerg Med. 1993;11:427-430.
Blanck HM, Khan LK, Serdula MK. Use of nonprescription weight loss products: results from a multistate survey. JAMA. 2001;286:930-935.
Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000:111-117.
Dingemanse J. An update of recent moclobemide interaction data. Int Clin Psychopharmacol. 1993;7(3&4):167-180.
Haller CA and Benowitz NL. Adverse cardiovascular and central nervous system events associated with dietary supplements containing ephedra alkaloids. NEJM. 2000;343:1833-1838.

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