Current Issues || Future Applications
Most controversy regarding Ephedra concerns its overuse as a stimulant.
Ephedra: Current Issues, Future Applications
After 5000 years of human use, the herb is now controversial, spawning from the abuse in both diet and energy products, and of the usage of strong concentrates in other products.
Thermogenic Weight Loss
It has been proven that enhancing thermogenesis boosts energy expenditure, leading to weight loss. Studies show that when aspirin is combined with ephedrine, this mixture can be "put to use as aids for treatment of human obesity." One study in particular (The International Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders, Feb. 1993) showed that ephedrine increases the release of brain catecholamines, without significant cardiovascular effects, subsequently favoring thermogenesis. Aspirin was shown to interfere with the modulators that inhibit ephedrine's thermogenic effect. The researchers concluded that varying combinations of ephedrine and aspirin could provide "a safe combination with the necessary thermogenic properties to assist in the management of obesity." When additional studies were performed, this time testing the effects of caffeine on the regulation of thermogenesis, it was shown that caffeine also modulates activities in the body that would normally inhibit ephedrine's thermogenic weight loss effect. For more on this topic, read the article by Smart Basics.
The use of ephedrine as a diet aid has not been without controversy. Ephedra was at risk of being banned from sale over the counter in several states, including Texas. By April, 1996, the Texas Department of Health (TDH) proposed banning ephedrine-containing products made by the dietary supplement industry, while preserving those
Even the consumption of Ephedra in tea has become controversial, since it is now advertised as a diet tea to the American market. In general, these teas are based on Ephedra, caffeine, and sometimes aspirin or willow bark. Critics of the thermogenic properties touted by these diet tea products mention that stimulants are appetite suppressants, and ephedrine works exactly like the FDA approved appetite suppressant phenylpropanolamine (PPA), the active ingredient of Dexatrim. PPA lacks the central nervous stimulation exhibited by the Ephedra alkaloids but it has the same contraindications and is subject to the same cautions. Caffeine, as well, shares similar cautions as Ephedra. When Ephedra is combined in diet or energy products with caffeine or a natural caffeine source such as kola nut, guarana, or tea, the effects can be especially powerful. The Herb Research Foundation created a nifty chart comparing the dosages of Ephedra alkaloid dosages among various ephedrine-based products.The Foundation also included in their fact sheet the warnings required on ephedrine and pseudoephedrine-containing OCDs (quoted from the Physicians' Desk Reference for Nonprescription Drugs. 10th edition. 1989. p. 742), since such products should be avoided by persons either sensitive to stimulants or having conditions mentioned in the warnings listed.