Ephedra, also commonly known as Ma Huang, has been in use in Chinese medicine for over 2,500 years. It is native to Inner Mongolia and northern China wherein it grows as a barkless, jointed plant that has branches bearing few leaves and small yellow-green flowers that only open up in the summer. While different varieties of ephedra grow all over the world, the one in use in the United States thrives in dry, southwestern areas.
Ephedra gained popularity from the Mormon settlers back in the 1800s. Consumed as a stimulant in the guise of tea, as a substitute for coffee and tea, the plant derived the moniker, Mormon Tea. Apart from this name, it was also called Desert Herb, Squaw Tea, Desert Tea, and Whorehouse Tea--as it was served in brothels with the belief that it cured syphilis and gonorrhea.
Ma Huang as a medicinal herb is made up of dried, young branches of ephedra. Harvested in autumn, ephedra is grown from seed reproduction or root division with the stems being dried throughout the year. The herb's strength is primarily derived from ephedrine (an alkaloid), norpseudephedrine, and pseudephedrine.
A weight loss product containing ephedra works by increasing your basal metabolic rate, which causes calories to be burned faster by the body. While a weight loss product containing ephedra can be effective--suppressing the appetite and increasing metabolism--results are hardly permanent and using a weight loss product containing ephedra for long periods of time has been considered harmful. In fact, sources from china recommend that ephedra be only used in acute situations.
A weight loss product containing ephedra can be considered an energy product as well because ephedra works to increase perception and alertness. Use of ephedra in this respect actually dates back to the time of Genghis Khan, when his bodyguards consumed teas with ephedra for fear of falling asleep lest they want to be beheaded. Used with caffeine products, a weight loss product containing ephedra can magnify its energy-giving effects. Apart from giving energy, ephedra has also been tapped to promote mens, decrease the desire for smoking cigarettes, and promote uterine contractions. An increase in sexual sensations have also been reported.
As effective as ephedra is, it also has its fair share of controversies. It has been recommended that a weight loss product containing ephedra, or anything that contains ephedra should not be taken for long periods of time because it can lead to Tachyphylaxis, or the immunity to a particular drug because of overuse. Dependence on a drug also develops as a result of overuse.
In April of 1996, the Food and Drug Administration of the United States issued warnings about supplements with ephedra, as these were promoting themselves to be "safe substitutes for street drugs". According to the Food and Drug Administration, products with ephedra can be dangerous because they can affect the heart and nervous system.
As for dietary supplements, the Food and Drug Administration has no control over the production of ephedra, which includes what exactly is in the product, what additional ingredients can be added to the product, how it was produced, or exactly what parts of the plant was it made from. Take into consideration that when the whole of the ephedra plant is used in any treatment, its side effects can be minimal. However, when the key ingredients, like ephedrine have been isolated from the plant, the strength of the product radically increases, and as such. also increasing its side effects. The purity and potencies available to supplements differ greatly by bottle and by brand. This results to having difficulty in determining exact recommendations for dosages. It is highly recommended however, that instructions labels should be followed exactly
While safely taken with correct dosages, a weight loss product containing ephedra can be bad for children and adolescents, older people, sick people, pregnant women, and women who breastfeed. Those who suffer from heart disease, prostate enlargement, high levels of blood pressure, pheochromocytoma, glaucoma, diabetes, thyrotoxicosis, nervousness. hyperthyroidism, anorexia, suicidal tendencies, insomnia, bulimia, or stomach ulcers should not be taking ephedra. Abdominal bloating, as well as diarrhea might also be aggravated with ephedra use.
Take note that with a weight loss product containing ephedra, effectiveness is attributed to ephedra's ability to increase metabolism. However, over stimulation can have dangerous results. As ephedra's active ingredient, epinephrine mimics the effects that adrenaline has, it can be a very powerful stimulant. Also since the molecular makeup of epinephrine is relatively close to that of methampetamine, ephedra use can cause an individual to test positive for methampetamine in a urine test.