Ephedra

Nonessential Micronutrient

OVERVIEW

Summary

Ephedra or ma huang, as it’s sometimes referred to, is an herbal form of the powerful stimulant ephedrine. Recently, it has grown in popularity — both good and bad — throughout the world as a most revered weight-loss aid because it has been shown in numerous studies to temporarily suppress appetite, is a natural stimulant, and acts as a thermogenic — burning more calories, faster.

Other names for Ephedra

ma huang, ephedrine

Where to find Ephedra

This desert shrub (the ma huang plant) grows on the dry, rocky slopes of Asia.

Ephedra sinica is the Latin name for the herbal form of the powerful stimulant ephedrine, and ma huang is the Chinese name. For that reason, these two supplement names (ephedra and ma huang) are used interchangeably.

PERFORMANCE BENEFITS

Why athletes use Ephedra

Ephedra has become one of the most talked about (both good and bad) supplements around, especially for those searching to transform their physiques because it both helps them shed bodyfat and maintain muscle mass. While this all-natural herbal fat-loss remedy has gained notoriety for helping burn more calories, faster, it’s perhaps even more popular with athletes who report ephedra’s ability to quickly stimulate the body and support sudden bursts of energy.


Ways that Ephedra can enhance Fat Loss:
  • Increase the rate of calorie expenditure and suppress appetite to support fat loss
Ways that Ephedra can enhance Energy & Endurance:
  • Temporarily increase energy output by activating the central nervous system as a stimulant

HEALTH BENEFITS

Signs of Ephedra deficiency

No deficiency conditions are known to exist.

Potential uses for Ephedra

Research indicates that Ephedra may be useful in the treatment of:

  • Asthma
  • Congestion
  • Obesity

DISCUSSION

More about Ephedra

Imagine you’re crossing the street and a speeding car almost hits you. Within seconds, you begin to sweat, your heart pounds, and you feel almost out of breath. This is known as the fight-or-flight response. Well, consuming an herb called ephedra (or ma huang) appears to produce a similar result. That is, it may increase blood pressure and heart rate, make you sweat, and increase blood flow to the heart, brain, and muscles. Only it may last quite a bit longer than your body’s immediate response to avoiding a car — more like 20 to 30 minutes.

Many believe this strong reaction is why ephedra may be so effective for relieving fatigue, increasing the metabolic rate, and stimulating the central nervous system. Used for over 5,000 years, ma huang gains popularity almost daily, whether good or bad, as a stimulant and weight-loss aid.

Warning: Because this supplement is a very effective stimulant, it’s not for everyone! We encourage you to read the entire ephedra usage warning before supplementing with it.

Herbal support for fat loss

Ma huang has been showing up in a number of herbal fat-loss formulas. For good reason — many studies have shown it may help suppress appetite, stimulate the central nervous system, as well as “heat up” core body temperature. When your body’s temperature increases, and more calories are being burned for fuel, the greater the loss of fat. In a nutshell, that’s how it works and why people from all walks of life are using it.

A potent “thermogenic” cocktail

Because of the most recent research, ma huang is often used with caffeine and aspirin (sometimes referred to as the E/C/A stack or ephedrine, caffeine, and aspirin stack) to optimize its fat-burning and stimulant effects. Often, the natural herbal forms of guarana (caffeine), ma huang (ephedrine), and white willow bark (aspirin) are used. Most studies show combining 200 mg of caffeine, which is equivalent to about 900 mg of guarana, with about 350 mg ephedra (standardized for 6 to 8 percent or at least 20 mg of ephedrine) and adding in 60 to 75 mg of white willow bark (or the equivalent of 200 to 300 mg of aspirin) to be effective. Watch out though, as many who have tried it will contend, this combination pulls a “power-packed” punch. In other words, it will “kick you in the butt,” but it can certainly help shed that unwanted bodyfat and boost your energy levels.

The popular combination of ephedra, caffeine, aspirin can be found in many of today’s energy-spiked sports nutrition drinks. But more typically, it is found in most “fat-burning,” metabolic-enhancing, and weight-loss products because of the scientifically documented synergistic effects of combining it in a 10 to 1 ratio. This potent “thermogenic” combination is reported to synergistically increase metabolic rate and increase the mobilization (loss) of fat. However, when using these products together, many experts report that it’s best to use them for only three to four weeks at a time before taking one to two weeks off because the body tends to become rather resistant to its effects after a short period of time.

Relieve colds and flus?

Historically used in China for the treatment of the common cold, asthma, and other related symptoms, ma huang is now found in some prescription and over-the-counter asthma and hay-fever medications. Ephedra works on the bronchial muscles (which control our airways) to relax and open them, thus allowing more air to flow through. Often athletes report using ephedra to improve the rate of air flow and lung capacity during sporting events, supposedly allowing them to breathe more “freely and easily.”

This herb has also been used for many years to fight fevers, flus, and colds. Its potential to promote sweating seems to flush the oncoming flu or cold away. Some experts suggest it significantly reduces the duration of a fever and may even stop the cold or flu from arriving at all.

In conclusion

This powerfully “stimulating” herb appears to have some pretty strong effects that may help you make dramatic changes in your physique by helping you lose fat while maintaining muscle mass. As well, ephedra can help give you that “zip” before a workout on days when you might be lagging. It can even help clear your bronchial passages for ease of breathing when you’re taking part in your favorite sports. Nonetheless, because it is so powerful, it also appears to have interactions and safety concerns that should not be overlooked. In fact, though ephedra only accounts for less than 1% of herbs sold, it accounts for up to 64% of the negative reactions reported. In other words, it’s more than 220 times more likely to cause problems than all the other herbal products combined. Use more than common sense — read the warnings before taking ephedra. Or don’t take it at all.

NOTES ON USAGE

Amount

For instant “energy” as a performance stimulant or to enhance the body’s ability to burn fat, studies support taking from 12.5 to 25 mg of ephedrine 2 to 3 times daily. When using the herbal ma huang or ephedra extract (standardized for 8 percent ephedrine alkaloids), 150 to 300 mg 2 to 3 times per day is reportedly effective.

Timing

For fat loss or energy stimulation, ephedra should be taken before meals and/or 30 minutes prior to exercise.

Important to know

Because each person’s reaction to stimulants may differ, some experimentation is needed to determine the optimal amount to consume. It may be worth starting with about 300 mg of ma huang (standardized for 6 to 8 percent or about 20 mg of ephedrine) and then determining if more is needed to produce the desired stimulating effects.

Tip

It’s better to use ephedra earlier in the day and especially not near bedtime. Otherwise, you may increase the chances of insomnia, especially if you are sensitive to stimulants. Basically, it would be like drinking four cups of coffee before going to bed — it’s not going to make it easy to fall asleep.

Synergists of Ephedra

Used in a 10 to 1 ratio of guarana (or 200 mg of caffeine) to ephedra (or 20 mg of ephedrine) is believed to synergistically increase metabolic rate and boost fat loss. Often adding white willow bark (or 150 to 300 mg aspirin) compounds the effect and is quite popular in thermogenic, fat-loss formulas. When using these products together, many experts report that it’s best to use them for only three to four weeks and then take one to two weeks off.

When using ephedra in weight-loss formulas, studies have shown that panax ginseng and/or Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, magnesium, zinc, and pantothenic acid may help support the adrenal gland and decrease the side effects of ma huang. Overstimulation of the adrenal gland can lead to fatigue and overtraining syndrome.

Herbalists often report successful treatments of asthma and other lung complications when expectorants, such as licorice, are used with ephedra to help clear the respiratory tract.

Safety of Ephedra

Because ephedra (ma huang) may increase blood pressure and heart rate or cause insomnia, anxiety, and palpitations, it is best to consult with a nutritionally oriented doctor before using this herb if these conditions are present.

If you are pregnant or lactating, don’t tolerate stimulants well, or have a preexisting heart condition, ephedra is not recommended.

Overuse of ephedra can cause jitteriness, irritability, insomnia, and can deplete nutrients from the body, but these effects are usually short-lived.

Not recommended for long-term use. After about three to four weeks of supplementing with ephedra, take one to two weeks off using the supplement.

Although alkaloids of ephedra can be found in certain medications for children, it is not recommended for children or anyone under 18 unless directed by a physician.

A recent report in the journal Neurology found that when over 32 mg of ephedra were taken, the risk of hemorrhagic stroke more than tripled.
Drugs that interact with Ephedra

Patients taking antidepressants, beta-agonists, beta-blockers, or drugs to lower blood pressure may want to avoid use of ephedra — they may experience an increased number of side effects due to the interaction of their medication with ma huang.

Toxicity of Ephedra

Fewer than 50 cases of toxicity have been reported in the scientific literature. The problems that have come to light are often of misuse (e.g., taking more than the suggested amount or using ephedra with medication that may have contraindicative effects).

Bans and restrictions

Banned by the FDA for use or sale in the U.S.

Also banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

RELATED RESEARCH

  • Bell, D.G., and Jacobs, I., “Combined Caffeine and Ephedrine Ingestion Improves Run Times of Canadian Forces Warrior Test,” Aviat Space Environ Med 70.4 (1999) : 325-9.
  • Bell, D.G., et al., “Effects of Caffeine, Ephedrine and Their Combination on Time to Exhaustion During High-Intensity Exercise,” Eur J Appl Physiol 77.5 (1998) : 427-33.
  • Bell, D.G., et al., “Reducing the Dose of Combined Caffeine and Ephedrine Preserves the Ergogenic Effect,” Aviat Space Environ Med 71.4 (2000) : 415-9.
  • Gurley, B.J., et al., “Ephedrine Pharmacokinetics After the Ingestion of Nutritional Supplements Containing Ephedra sinica (ma huang),” Ther Drug Monit 20.4 (1998) : 439-45.
  • Morgenstern, L.B., et al., “Use of Ephedra-Containing Products and Risk for Hemorrhagic Stroke,” Neurology 60 (2003) : 132-5.
  • Shannon, J.R., et al., “Acute Effect of Ephedrine on 24-h Energy Balance,” Clin Sci (Colch) 96.5 (1999) : 483-91.
  • White, L.M., et al., “Pharmacokinetics and Cardiovascular Effects of Ma-Huang (Ephedra sinica) in Normotensive Adults,” J Clin Pharmacol 37.2 (1997) : 116-22.