Ephedra – Herbs For Alternative Medicine


Known as Ma-Huang in China, it is a member of the family of herbs known as the Ephedracae. Ephedra grows abundantly throughout the northern provinces of this country. Varieties of the herb are also grown in Europe, India, Australia and Afghanistan. Compounds derived from ephedra are commonly found in many over-the-counter cold and allergy medications.

Its active ingredients are ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and norpseudoephedrine, all central nervous system stimulants. Ephedrine, the main constituent, affects the body by opening bronchial passages; this activates the heart, increasing blood pressure and speeding up metabolism. Pseudoephedrine is a nasal decongestant and has less stimulating effect on the heart and blood pressure. In the United States, several states have set restrictions on the strength of over-the-counter products containing ephedra.

Because of its stimulating effect on the nervous system, ephedra can be found in some popular weight loss and energy products. Recently Ma-Huang has been the subject of scientific research for obesity because of its thermogenic fat-metabolizing effect on dietary intake. Despite the claims of marketers, there is no reliable evidence that the active agent, ephedrine, is safe or effective in aiding weight loss.

Concerns over the potency of this herb and its isolated alkaloids have prompted increased regulatory scrutiny and industry label warnings. Contraindications and possible side effects should be listed on the bottle.

Claims and Common Uses:

  • Suppresses appetite and is used as a weight loss aid
  • Increases perspiration and stimulates the nervous system
  • Utilized for pain or inflammatory conditions
  • May elevate mood
  • May relieve headaches
  • Widely utilized for fever and chills, coughing, wheezing, nasal and chest congestion, indigestion, common cold, asthma, hay fever, influenza, and stomachache

Part Used: Stems or branches

Preparations: Teas, extracts, tablets, and dried bulk herb

  • A tea is prepared by boiling 1-tsp. ephedra with 1 cup water for 15 to 20 minutes. Drink up to 2 cups a day.

Side Effects and Warnings of Ephedra:

  • It has been linked to the deaths of at least 15 people
  • Contraindications include increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, heart palpitations, and can lead to stroke. If any of these symptoms develop, stop using ephedra immediately and consult your physician
  • Insomnia, dry mouth, nervousness, general weakness, poor digestion, irritability, headache, and dizziness
  • Do not take ephedra if you are pregnant, nursing or have heart disease, anxiety disorder (panic attacks), high blood pressure, diabetes, glaucoma, or an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
  • If you are taking any medication, consult your physician before using this herb
  • Do not take ephedra if you are taking monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor drugs, commonly prescribed for depression.
  • Do not administer to children under the age of 18 or to adults over the age of 65
  • Because ephedra can cause a number of side effects—and in rare cases, death—consult a practitioner before using it
  • Do not take after 4:00 p.m., ephedra may cause sleeplessness.