Ephedra is the term used to refer to the plant source for ephedrine but is also an herbal supplement. Ephedrine is marketed as a legitimate drug while ephedra as a herbal supplement is much more loosely regulated.
Ephedra as an herb has been used by the Chinese to treat various ailments such as allergies, bronchitis and the flu. It became popular for weight loss purposes in the 1980s, the same time when athletes began using it to boost their performance. However, due to side effects, the use of ephedra for these purposes was banned in 2006. Today, the sale of ephedra is limited to specialty shops online and offline, with strong user warnings cautioning against the improper use of the supplement, especially the improper combinations with other stimulants and weight loss supplements.
- Cao mahuang
- Desert herb
- Chinese ephedra Ephedra sinica
The main action of ephedra is the stimulation of the heart, lungs and the nervous system.
- kidney stones
- decreased appetite
- increased urination
- increasing sweating
- hand tremors
- dry mouth
Ephedra is marketed as an effective weight loss supplement despite the fact that it was originally consumed for respiratory and GI problems by the ancient Chinese. However, efficacy for weight loss only occurs when it is administered in high doses or when ingested with caffeine. This often leads to more side effects due to the simultaneous use of two stimulants. Ephedra has a number of uses that are unrelated to weight loss. The supplement is allowed by Health Canada for use a nasal decongestant. The supplement cannot be produced and sold in Canada when it is mixed with any amount of caffeine to avoid heightening its side effects. The dosage is also strictly regulated, which means the supplement cannot exceed 400 mg per dose or 1600 mg per day.
Another appealing advantage of ephedra stems from its role as a stimulant. It increases endurance, alertness, strength and aggressiveness among athletes. Body builders and athletes like the increased concentration that the supplement gives them which aids in longer training times and faster results. The use of the supplement is also thought to reduce fatigue. However, there is a shortage of clinical studies that prove that these effects exist, or that it increases the quality of athletic performance in any way.
Prone to Abuse
One of the main disadvantages of ephedra is that it is prone to abuse. When ephedrine and pseudoephedrine were banned in sports, players switched to ephedra which increased their risk for side effects such as heat stroke and rapid heart rate. Those who wanted to lose weight using ephedra consumed the supplement in triple doses, which led to severe and even fatal side effects.Those who plan on using this supplement should consult with their doctors in order to get an assessment of their current physical condition in order to determine if they are prone to side effects or not.
Side Effects when Combined with Other Stimulants
Ephedra also has potentially lethal effects when combined with caffeine. Caffeine increases body temperature while there are a number of alkaloids contained in the herbal supplement that cause vasoconstriction, which confuses the cardiovascular system, and can produce potentially lethal results. There are many claims that these side effects can be prevented when used correctly, many users often fail to resort to getting the right information before they start using the supplement, increasing the risk of consuming the supplement in the wrong dosage. There have been reports of deaths following the ingestion of ephedra and caffeine combinations, as well as reports of chest pain, palpitations, strokes and increased body temperature. A number of reports also say that these combinations also increases the risk for blood clots among women.
Insufficient evidence as a performance enhancer
The performance-enhancing effects of ephedra have not been convincingly shown. The side effects make the supplement even more dangerous for people who have high blood pressure and athletes whose training results to periods of high blood pressure and increased temperatures and heart rates when they train and compete. This, among other reasons, is why ephedra is banned from many official sports organizations, among them the International Olympic Committee and the National Football League.
Consumption can cause psychosis
The use of the herb has also been associated with psychosis, in circumstances where doctors could find no other possible causes for the condition. These side effects become even more pronounced when the supplement is combined with kola nut, green tea, guarana and other herbal supplements that also have stimulant effects.The psychosis has also been associated with and could stem from other ephedra side effects such as restlessness and insomnia.
Side effects can occur at recommended doses in susceptible users
Many of the side effects are commonly observed when the supplement is abused but even when used under the regulation of a medical health professional or a fitness trainer, individuals can still present with side effects. Improper use of the herb is not uncommon because it is not strictly regulated.Even in low doses, however, a person may experience side effects when tolerance is low or when the physical condition of the person prevents him from metabolizing the supplement properly. The risk for side effects becomes more pronounced in people who have pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, heart rate problems, thyroid disorders, glaucoma, anxiety, existing mental disorders, metabolic disorders and histories of seizures and heart attacks.
The risks associated with the use of ephedra for weight loss far exceed its supposed benefits. This is the reason why dieters and athletes are better off engaging in the tried and tested methods of exercise and the right diet if they want to lose weight and boost performance. While there have been claims that most of the side effects reportedly caused by ephedra are thought to be not from the supplement itself but due to the other components included in the supplement, the mere presence of these risks is enough reason to look for a healthier alternative for weight loss, especially for those with preexisting health conditions who want to lose weight the safe and right way.