Herbal Ephedra Is Dangerous and Potentially Deadly

Herbal Ephedra Can Cause Heart Attack, Seizures and Stroke

Studio shot of Ephedra
Medic Image/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Products containing this supplement have been under fire for the past several because of the many adverse effects attributed to its use for weight loss and as an energy booster.

History of Ephedra

The Chinese ephedra, Ma huang, has been used for at least 5,000 years to treat wheezing and asthma. More recently, Ephedrine, which is synthesized from ephedra and is classified as a drug, was widely used to treat breathing difficulties and nasal congestion due to asthma and sinusitis until more effective synthetic compounds took over the market. Ephedrine is still sold as nasal sprays and in bronchodilators.

Ephedra use problems began when manufacturers turned to marketing ephedra as a weight loss drug. Teamed with St. John's Wort it was dubbed the "natural" fen-phen -- a combination of fenfluramine and phentermine that was supposed to be the successful drug to combat obesity. Fen-phen's success was short-lived and the drug was banned after deaths and adverse events were directly attributed to fen-phen use.

Under the auspices of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which gives the FDA jurisdiction over the regulation of dietary supplements, in 2004, the FDA banned the sale of herbal products containing ephedra in the United States. The FDA realized that such products were potentially deadly and shouldn't be consumed by the public. Previously, these products were sold to both promote weight loss and enhance athletic performance. This ban means you can't purchase ephedra-containing products from your local nutrition shop or on Amazon.

What Is Ephedra?

Ephedra is an evergreen shrub found in Central Asia. The active ingredient in ephedra is ephedrine which is a powerful sympathetic stimulator, which increases heart rate and blood pressure. Of special note, if a person already has heart conditions, taking ephedra-containing products is a deadly proposition and could result in sudden death or heart attack. The dried leaves and stems of the ephedra plant are used to create teas, tinctures, tablets and more.

What Are the Adverse Effects of Ephedra?

Ephedra can do a bunch of bad things to your body including the following:

View Article Sources
  • Taking herbal ephedra can also mess with the other medications and exacerbate chronic medical conditions like diabetes and kidney problems. Overall, nobody should take herbal ephedra for weight loss or anything else; it's a dangerous herbal supplement and studies show that it has resulted in many poisonings. Furthermore, plenty of studies have supported the many terrible adverse effects of this drug.
    Selected Sources
  • Briggs JP. Complementary, Alternative, and Integrative Health Practices. In: Kasper D, Fauci A, Hauser S, Longo D, Jameson J, Loscalzo J. eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2015. Accessed January 27, 2016.