Knowing What’s in the Bottle: Ephedra Facts

While riding the cyber waves in search of any type of weight loss aid, you often see supplements that include Ephedra. Ephedra is a popular product for weight loss and workout enhancements. If you wish to buy ephedra, you must know what it is you plan to put into your body.

What is Ephedra?

Most “Ephedra” supplements contain a preparation of the Ephedra plant, like Ephedra Sinica, or “Ma Huang” in Traditional Chinese Medicine. According to the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, Ma Huang, the Ephedra plant, is often used “as a remedy for asthma, coughs, congestion, and other lung problems.” It also works as an aid to induce sweating. The technical term for its effect is a “bronchodilator,” meaning that it clears and expands the bronchi, the passageway that conducts air to the lungs. Ephedra has “thermogenic” properties, meaning that it increases the metabolic process by increasing body temperature. The plant also has a mild stimulant effect. According to WebMd, Ephedra is used as a weight-loss and diet aid. It is also an ingredient in anti-asthma and pneumonia medication, and it serves as a means to increase athletic performance.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, people prepare Ephedra as a tea in hot water. Though it had numerous uses in China for thousands of years, it wasn’t until the 19th century that people began to isolate the active ingredients and use Ephedra as a weight-loss supplement. This breakthrough began with the work of the Japanese organic chemist, Nagayoshi Nagai. His work was re-discovered in the 1930’s by K.K Chen and Carl Schmidt. Doctors prescribed Ephedra doses for asthma. Prescriptions rose until the 1950’s, when more popular asthma drugs hit the market.

Is Ephedra Legal?

Most Ephedra extracts that exist on the market today are legal. However, Ephedrine, a chemical found in low concentrations in some species of the Ephedra plant, is banned by the FDA, due to its link to heart disease and heatstroke. Most sporting organizations also ban Ephedrine. Ephedrine is an alkaloid, which is a natural organic compound extracted from Ephedra Sinica. However, other species of the plant (ephedra viridis, and ephedra nevadensis, aka Mormon Tea) do not contain Ephedrine. The FDA banned all sale of Ephedra in 2004, citing the dangers of the Ephedrine alkaloid. However, Nutraceutical Corporation challenged that ruling in court. The courts overturned the ban in 2005, which the FDA appealed.

The matter was settled for good by the courts in 2007. Today, Ephedrine alkaloids remain illegal, but products containing just the ephedra extract remain legal. It is also legal to buy the seeds of the Ephedra plant to grow it. In other words, if you are looking to purchase Ephedra, be sure to read the label. Look for “ephedra extracts,” ephedra viridis, orMormon Tea.” A supplement that does not contain Ephedrine does not carry Ephedrine’s health risks. According to Gold, Albanese, Barletti & Locascio, LLC, a law firm in New York, NY, it is illegal to have banned substances shipped to you, even if you are not aware of their unlawful nature. So, be sure you buy your Ephedra supplements from trusted sources.

A Word of Caution

As with any dietary supplement, be sure you know your own limits before you take it. Ephedra carries risks for anybody with heart disease or a history of hypertension. For that reason, always read the labels on your supplements, to be sure you know the risks as well as the benefits. High doses of ephedra carry health risks with them, especially if you combine them with other stimulants, even an innocent cup of coffee could react with the supplement. Because you may take an Ephedra supplement in conjunction with an exercise regime, remember to listen to your body, so you don’t overexert yourself. The best way to minimize risks is to be informed about both your supplements and your body.