Facebook Pixel

Ephedra – A Chinese Herb that Can Be Misused

By HERWriter
Rate This

Ephedra is an herb that is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine under the name ma huang. It grows as an evergreen shrub in Central Asia and Mongolia. The active ingredients in ephedra are ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which are both stimulants that act on the central nervous system including the heart.

Why ephedra is used
Ephedra has a long history in China and India. It has been used to treat nasal symptoms including nasal congestion, wheezing, asthma, colds, flu, fever, headaches, and asthma. The herb is known to act as a decongestant.

More recently, ephedra has also been marketed as a diet aid featuring a natural stimulant and appetite suppressant. It was considered to be a natural source of the weight loss drug fen phen. Fen phen, which is actually a combination of two drugs, is believed to cause serious heart valve abnormalities in approximately 30 percent of all patients taking the drug. Based on a recommendation by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), fen phen was removed from the market in 1997.

Ephedra has also been linked to serious heart problems and strokes. Although ephedra accounted for only 5 percent of all diet supplements, it was associated with 45 percent of all bad reactions to diet aids. In 2003, the FDA banned ephedra as a diet or weight loss aid due to serious health risks. This ban does not include the use of ephedra in traditional Chinese medicine.

How ephedra is used
Ephedra is still popular in Chinese medicine. The dried stems and leaves of the plant are used as a tea and to make extracts, tablets, or capsules.

Caution for ephedra
Research shows that ephedra is the cause of more calls to poison control centers due to side effects than any other herbal products. Possible side effects include anxiety, dry mouth, difficulty urinating, headaches, high blood pressure, nausea, heart damage, kidney stones, and others. Cautions for ephedra include:

Heart problems – Higher doses of ephedra used in diet aids increased the risk of heart problems, stroke, and sudden death.
Health conditions – Ephedra may make certain health conditions worse, including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and diabetes.
Seizures – Ephedra has been known to cause seizures, even in people who do not have a seizure disorder.
Pregnancy – Ephedra can stimulate contractions of the uterus. Women who are pregnant or breast feeding should not take ephedra.
Heatstroke – Ephedra is known to increase the metabolism, which causes the body to generate more internal heat. At the same time, ephedra also makes it harder for the body to lose excess heat.
Caffeine – Combining ephedra with caffeine can make side effects worse.

Be sure to tell your doctor about all supplements you chose to take, including ephedra. To reduce your risk of side effects from ephedra, talk to a qualified herbalist before using the herb for any reason.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
University of Maryland Medical Center
U.S. Food & Drug Administration

Add a Comment3 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

I wanted to thank you for this good read about ephedra products !! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it.I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

March 17, 2011 - 12:00am

Giving away freebies and free samples is the best way for companies to introduce their products to you. Best place is "123 Get Samples" Best of all, there is no obligation on your part.

February 18, 2011 - 2:07am
EmpowHER Guest

My name is James Whittle and I am an expert in Chinese herbal medicine and I have followed the controversy on Ephedra in the US over the years. I wrote an artilce about Ephedra for the Asheville Citizen's Times in Asheville in 2006. Ephedra gets a bad rap but has been used safely and effectively in China for thousands of years. To read the arilce you can sheck out this link:

February 17, 2011 - 1:26pm
Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy
Add a Comment

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Holistic Health

Get Email Updates

Holistic Health Guide


Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!