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Ephedra

Topic Overview

NOTE: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the sale of ephedra because of concerns about its safety. The product has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, and some deaths.

What is ephedra?

Ephedra—also known as ma huang and by its scientific name, Ephedra sinica—is an herbal product that comes from an evergreen plant. The Chinese used these plants 5,000 years ago, possibly for the treatment of asthma and hay fever. But they used plant preparations unlike the modern ephedra supplements that are now banned.

Ephedra stimulates the brain, causing nervousness and making the heart beat faster. It temporarily expands the tubes that carry air to the lungs (bronchial tubes), which makes breathing easier in people who have asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Serious problems are associated with ephedra. There have been some reports of heart attacks and deaths after its use. Do not take ephedra or anything that contains ephedra.

What is ephedra used for?

Ephedra was used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat asthma.

More recently, people used ephedra as an energy booster and to help with weight loss.

Is ephedra safe?

No. The FDA has banned the sale of ephedra.

Side effects of ephedra include:

  • Nervousness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Tremor.
  • Headache.
  • Insomnia.
  • Irritability.
  • Vomiting.
  • Potential dependence.

At high doses, ephedra has been reported to cause:

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Murray MT, Pizzorno JE (2013). Ephedra species. In JE Pizzorno, MT Murray, eds., Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th ed., pp. 731–734. St. Louis: Mosby.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Last Revised June 11, 2013

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