Free Nutritional Health Information and Tools

HERBS: Ephedra


Overview of Herbs | Alfalfa | Aloe Vera | Burdock | Capsaicin | Cascara | Chamomile | Chaparral | Comfrey | Echinacea | Garlic | Ginger | Ginseng (Asian) | Ginseng (American) | Gotu Kola | Hawthorn | Licorice | Ephedra | Milk Thistle | Sassafras | Blue-Green Algae

PreviousNext

Ephedra

Ephedra

Scientific name

Ephedra sinica Ephedra equisetina

Other names

Mahuang, herbal ecstasy

Brand name

Herbal Ectasy, Herbal fen-phen

Purported uses

  • To treat asthma: Ephedra may stimulate bronchial dilation. Alkaloids from ephedra have been used in over-the-counter medication as asthma remedies and nasal decongestants.
  • To treat coughs and bronchitis: Ephedra may stimulate bronchial dilation, but there is no proof from clinical trials to support this use. The risk of dangerous side effects of ephedra may outweigh any benefits. 
  • To treat the common cold: No scientific evidence supports this use. 
  • To treat infections: Laboratory studies show that ephedra has antibacterial properties, but there is no proof from clinical trials that ephedra can treat infections.  
  • To promote urination: No scientific evidence supports this use.
  • For strength and stamina: Ephedra stimulates the central nervous system, but there is no proof from clinical trials to support this use. The risk of dangerous side effects of ephedra may outweigh any benefits. 
  • To lose weight: Even though a few clinical trials suggest that people taking ephedra lose weight, ephedra is not safe to use, even at normal doses.

Warnings

The FDA has banned the sales of ephedra-containing dietary supplements. Consumers are urged not to buy or use these products. These products have made unsubstantiated claims and may pose significant health risks. Possible adverse effects include hypertension, palpitations, heart attack, stroke, seizures, psychosis and death.

Contraindications

Anxiety, hypertension, heart disease, glaucoma, prostate enlargement, hyperthyroidism.

The safety of ephedra for use during pregnancy has not been established. Since ephedra can stimulate uterine contraction, women who are pregnant should not consume this product.

Adverse reactions

Reported: Hypertension, palpitations, heart attack, stroke, seizures, insomnia, psychosis and death.

Drug interactions

  • Aspirin: May increase risk of cerebral hemorrhage.
  • Benzodiazepines and other sedatives: Effects may be antagonized by ephedra.
  • Beta-adrenergic agonists: Ephedra may potentiate effects of beta-adrenergic agonists.
  • CNS stimulants: May increase stimulatory effects.
  • Theophylline: May increase stimulatory effects.
  • Digoxin: Concomitant use can cause arrhythmia.
  • Monoamine-oxidase inhibitors (MAO-I): Concomitant use can cause hypertensive crisis.

References

1. Barnes J, et al. Herbal Medicines. Second Ed. London: Pharmaceutical Press; 2002.

2. Bensky D, Gamble A. Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica. Revised Ed. Seattle: Eastland Press; 1993.

3. Foster S, et al. Tyler's Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies. New York: Haworth Herbal Press; 1999.

4. Gruenwald J, et al. PDR for Herbal medicines, 2nd ed. Montvale (NJ): Medical Economics Company; 1998.

5. Huang KC. The Pharmacology of Chinese Herbs, 2nd ed. New York: CRC Press; 1999.

FDA Statement on Street Drugs Containing Botanical Ephedrine, HHS News, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, April 10, 1996.

6. Boozer C, et al. An herbal supplement containing Ma Huang-Guarana for weight loss: a randomized, double-blind trial. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2001;25:316-24.

7. Samenuk D, et al. Adverse cardiovascular events temporally associated with ma huang, an herbal source of ephedrine. Mayo Clin Proc 2002;77:12-6.

8. Haller C, et al. Pharmacology of ephedra alkaloids and caffeine after single-dose dietary supplement use. Clin Pharmacol Ther 2002;71:421-32.

9. Haller C, Benowitz N. Adverse cardiovascular and central nervous system events associated with dietary supplements containing ephedra alkaloids. N Engl J Med 2000;343:1833-8.

10. Jellin J, editor. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Therapeutic Reseach Faculty; 2002.

11. News Release. FDA Announces Plans to Prohibit Sales of Dietary Supplements Containing Ephedra. United States Department of Health and Human Services. December 30, 2003.

Top of PagePreviousNext

Overview of Herbs | Alfalfa | Aloe Vera | Burdock | Capsaicin | Cascara | Chamomile | Chaparral | Comfrey | Echinacea | Garlic | Ginger | Ginseng (Asian) | Ginseng (American) | Gotu Kola | Hawthorn | Licorice | Ephedra | Milk Thistle | Sassafras | Blue-Green Algae