Ma Huang

Nutritional Compound

OVERVIEW

Summary

Ma huang or ephedra, as it is more commonly known, 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. Ma huang has gained notoriety as an herbal fat-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 Ma Huang

ephedra, Ephedra, -sinica, -intermedia, -equisetina

Where to find Ma Huang

This desert shrub grows on the dry, rocky slopes of Asia.

PERFORMANCE BENEFITS

Why athletes use Ma Huang

Ma huang 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 ma huang’s ability to quickly stimulate the body and support sudden bursts of energy.

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

HEALTH BENEFITS

Signs of Ma Huang deficiency

No deficiency conditions are known to exist.

Potential uses for Ma Huang

Research indicates that Ma Huang may be useful in the treatment of:

  • Asthma
  • Congestion
  • Obesity

DISCUSSION

More about Ma Huang

Imagine you’re crossing the street and a speeding car almost hits you. Within seconds, you begin to sweat, your heart pounds, and you almost feel out of breath. This is known as the fight-or-flight response. Well, consuming an herb called “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 to be exact.

Many believe this strong reaction is why ma huang 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 (interchangeably referred to as ephedra) gains popularity almost daily, whether good or bad, as a stimulant and weight-loss aid.

Warning: this supplement may not be for everyone!

Herbal support for fat loss

Ma huang has been showing up in a number of herbal weight-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.

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 ephedra, caffeine, and aspirin stack) to optimize its weight-loss 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% or at least 20 mg of ephedrine) and adding in 60 to 75 mg of white willow bark (an herbal form 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 extra weight.

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 metabolic-enhancing 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 3 to 4 weeks at a time before taking 1 to 2 weeks off because the body tends to become rather resistant to its effects after a short period of time.

Relieve colds & 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. Ma huang 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 ma huang to improve the rate of air flow and lung capacity during sporting events, supposedly allowing them 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 keeping your muscular capacity energized. As well, ma huang 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. Use more than common sense — read the warnings before taking ma huang.

NOTES ON USAGE

Amount

For instant “energy” used as a stimulant or performance-enhancing substance: Studies on performance enhancement and weight-loss support taking from 12.5 to 25 mg 2 to 3 times daily. When using the raw herb, 500 to 1,000 mg 3 times per day is reportedly useful.

Timing

For weight loss or energy stimulation, ma huang 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 “best” or optimal amount to consume. It may be worth starting with 350 mg of ma huang standardized for 6 to 8% or about 20 mg of ephedrine, and then determine if more is needed to produce the required “stimulating” effects.

Tip

It’s better to use ma huang 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 Ma Huang

Used in a 10 to 1 ratio of guarana (or 200 mg of caffeine) to ma huang (or 20 mg of ephedrine) is believed to synergistically increase weight loss. Often adding white willow bark (or 150 to 300 mg aspirin) compounds the effect and is quite popular in thermogenic, weight-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 ma huang 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 glands and decrease the side effects of ma huang. Overstimulation of the adrenal glands 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 ma huang to help clear the respiratory tract.

Safety of Ma Huang

Because 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, ma huang is not recommended.

Overuse of ma huang 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 ma huang, 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.

Drugs that interact with Ma Huang

Patients taking antidepressants, beta-agonists, beta blockers, or drugs to lower blood pressure may want to avoid use of ma huang;they may experience an increased number of side effects due to the interaction of their medication with ma huang. If you are using or considering using prescription drugs, please consult with your health practitioner about possible contraindications with this herb.

Toxicity of Ma Huang

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 ma huang with medication that may have contraindicative effects).

Bans and restrictions

Banned in Florida, Texas, and restricted in some other states.

The FDA advises that ephedra not be taken by patients with heart disease, thyroid disease, diabetes, or an enlarged prostate (see “warning”).

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.
  • 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.