Ephedra - What Is It And Why Do People Care?

Before you start popping those diet or energy pills endorsed by your favorite bodybuilder, take a seat. The 5000-year-old, ancient Chinese herb for treating asthma, allergies and hay fever called Ma Huang, commonly known as Ephedra.
Note: Ephedra was banned on April 12, 2004 by the federal government.

Before you start popping those diet or energy pills endorsed by your favorite bodybuilder, take a seat. The 5,000-year-old, ancient Chinese herb for treating asthma, allergies, and hay fever - called Ma Huang, commonly known as Ephedra or Ephedrine, has come under some serious heat.

Even the federal government has put its foot down and demanded to have a say in the future of Ephedra sales. Is there a reason for such criticism? No, there's not a reason; there are many reasons.

What Is It?

Ephedrine is salt of an alkaloid and is very soluble in water. Acting as a nerve stimulant resembling adrenaline, ephedrine (or Ma-huang) has been used for over 2,000 years to treat bronchial asthma cold and flu, chills, lack of perspiration, headache, nasal congestion, aching joints and bones, cough and wheezing, and edema.

This herb is not specific to the East, in fact the herb was widely used in the West as well. As times evolved, more civilizations learned the powerful effects of the drug. Some Mormons purportedly adopted Ephedrine into their diets and now make something called Mormon tea. Another name for the tea is also called Whorehouse tea!

How Does It Work?

As a central nervous system stimulant, the ephedrine in Ma Huang increases basal metabolic rate (BMR), meaning it spurs the body to burn calories faster.

Many weight loss products such as Ripped Fuel, Hydroxycut, and Xenadrine use some combination and amounts of Ephedrine. This is great for anybody wanting to lose weight, in combination with a proper diet and exercise.

Why There Is A Problem?

Where's the problem? At least nine states have attempted regulatory action on the herb. As stated before, there are several reasons why Ephedra is taking the heat. For example, alkaloids found in the herb contain substances used by illicit methamphetamine laboratories as starting material for illegal stimulant drugs.

Recently, the "Food and Drug Administration ordered six companies illegally selling synthetic ephedrine in the guise of an herb to stop. The synthetic form of Ephedra has long been outlawed, and the FDA for years has sought to stop such sales, which occur mostly via the internet (Source: MSNBC.com)."

In fact, the synthetic form of Ephedra is used on the street as an alternative to LSD and cocaine. Ephedra is even on the United States Olympic Committee's list of banned substances. Furthermore, due to a number of Ephedra-related medical incidents, even the sales of ephedrine-containing products in Texas have been restricted to those over age 18. Are other states suit to follow?

But now Big Brother has stepped in and wants answers. Why are so many people experiencing numerous cardiovascular-related side effects with this drug? And why hasn't the FDA stepped in to stop such sales?

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, "at least 54 deaths and about 1,000 reports of complications have been linked to the popular supplement since the mid-1990s."

The New England Journal of Medicine also published a study that examined 140 Ephedra-related incidents. "Based on a close review of patients charts and histories, almost a third of the adverse events were 'definitely or probably' caused by Ephedra, and another third were 'possibly' connected (Solotaroff 69)."

And according to the Food and Drug Administration, "since 1993, the count of adverse-event reports (AERs) for Ephedra-based supplements stands at nearly 1,400, including eighty deaths and hundreds of strokes, seizures, and coronaries (Ibid)." Why are there so many problems with Ephedra?

Ma Huang, commonly found in all your favorite weight loss and energy pills, is a powerful stimulant that raises the heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature.

Moreover, during exercise this stimulant constricts blood vessels during exercise, cultivating the atmosphere for a cardiovascular failure, such as a stroke or rapid heart beating. Nevertheless, combined with such ingredients as Guarana seed extract, Green tea leaf extract and caffeine, Ma Huang has the effect of adrenaline.

Sure, we all need a little push in our workouts, but combining Ma Huang and caffeine is a recipe for disaster - possibly even death.

Many of the weight loss pills and energy pills pack such a powerful punch, that one dose is equivalent to 10 cups of coffee.

The overstimulation of the heart is far from normal. With exercise already increasing our heart rate, the danger in synthetically speeding up our heart is deadly.

Why Is It Still Around?

Why is it so hard to ban the substance? The FDA and supplement companies have had their confrontations in the past. At the behest of Senators and Representatives, the FDA is weak to an ever-encompassing bill, and supplement companies knew that.

In the past, supplement companies have spent millions of dollars falsely informing consumers, donating to Congressmen's campaigns and helping pass the bill that would eventually cause the FDA to stop dead in their penal tracks. And to this day, the FDA does not regulate many Ephedra-based supplements. Should this be of concern? Yes.

According to a study led by Bill J. Gurley, Ph.D, of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, there is plenty of reason to be worried. This study, testing 20 herbal dietary supplements containing Ephedra, found significant differences between the actual amount of active ingredient and the amount claimed on the label.

"The study found that label claims for total Ephedra alkaloids were often not indicative of the amount present. 'We found that total alkaloid content could vary from as little as zero percent to more than 154 percent of the label claim," said Gurley.

'In fact, from the standpoint of alkaloid content, it appears that no two Ephedra supplements were the same.'" When you believe you are buying this all-natural, healthy supplement, you could be buying methamphetamine.

What can you do? There are plenty of healthy alternatives for weight loss and energy. Weight loss is associated with a healthy diet, rest and exercise. There are no magic pills that will lose the weight without some adverse side effect!

For energy, take Vitamin C pills, drink more water and get plenty of rest. On a final note, lifting was and is supposed to be difficult, hence the name 'workout' - choosing a pill to dissolve your problems requires some evaluation of the kind of goals you hope to achieve.


1. Medical College of Wisconsin Physicians & Clinics
2. MSNBC.com Health News June 14, 2002
3. The Ephedra Site: http://www.ephedra.demon.nl/
4. Solotaroff, Paul. "The Sports Supplement That Can Kill You." Men's Journal. July 2002.