Ephedra Distachya Uses, Benefits & Safety [Sea Grape]
Ephedra distachya is one of many species of the ephedra plant family. It is noted for containing the ephedrine alkaloid and was traditionally used to treat fevers, breathing issues, muscle pains and fatigue.
To date, about 50 to 60 species of this plant have been identified throughout the world. Many ephedra species are known by multiple names, often causing confusion among those interested in turning to the plant for a number of health benefits.
Ephedra Distachya is also known as E. Vulgaris, Sea Grape or Jointfir. It is distinguished from the product that is sometimes referred to as “real ephedra”. This moniker is typically reserved for the Ephedra Sinica species from China, which also goes by the name Ma Huang.
What is it that makes Ephedra Distachya distinct from other forms of this plant? In this article, we will review the specific properties of this plant, its traditional uses, its health benefits and whether or not it is effective for weight loss and diet pills. Click here to buy ephedra supplements online legally without a prescription.
A number of species of ephedra grow around the world in distinct geographical regions and climate. The properties of this plant can be different from location to location.
Ephedra distachya is native to central and southern European countries, but it can be found from Portugal to the Middle East to Central Europe, depending on climate and soil conditions.
Subspecies of ephedra distachya such as Helvetica (ephedra helvetica) tend to grow in Central European countries like France and Switzerland.
Chinese ephedra, otherwise known as Ma Huang, typically grows in Asia, from Mongolia to the central portions of the continent and into India.
American versions or species of ephedra such as Ephedra nevadensis and others typically grow in dry, desert-like regions of the US.
In folklore medicine, the ephedra distachya species has long been used for relief of joint and muscle pain. It’s also noted to be stimulative in nature. Various species of ephedra have different potencies depending on their alkaloid content.
Ephedrine, one of the most prevalent of the alkaloids found in a variety of ephedra species, is noted for its ability to stimulate the central nervous system. So too is pseudoephedrine, another alkaloid that is now more recognizable as the active ingredient in the OTC medication Sudafed.
In many cultures, different ephedra species have long been used as a tonic or brewed into a tea to treat lung or breathing conditions such as asthma, sinusitis, allergies, and rhinitis.
What is it that makes different species of ephedra distinct in their effects and uses? It has to do with the phytochemical profile associated with individual plants.
Not all species of ephedra plants contain the same alkaloids nor are the alkaloids found in the same concentrations.
For example, the more potent ephedra species contain roughly half a dozen alkaloids that produced stimulative, thermogenic, and appetite suppressant and energy boosting effects on the body such as:
Each of these alkaloids can affect a specific physiological response. How this plant affects you will depend on the alkaloids that are found in the plant extract and the quantities they are provided in.
Some of these plant chemicals can trigger responses that include increased heart rate, an accelerated respiratory rate, or a surge of energy.
The profile of alkaloids in each species of ephedra will be determined by other factors including its origin, the time of year it was cultivated, and the parts of the plants used in preparation of the extract.
Ephedra distachya is not noted as one of the more potent of the ephedra species. While it does contain the ephedrine alkaloid (which is the most biologically active), it does not have as much total alkaloid content as other species of the plant.
Below are three of the strongest version of ephedra species based on alkaloid content and ephedrine provided per dose :
- Ephedra sinica (10 to 42 mg per gram)
- Ephedra equisetina (22 to 49 mg per gram)
- Ephedra intermedia (5 to 18 mg per gram)
Some ephedra species don’t contain any of the primary alkaloids, such as ephedra nevadensis, an American species. Another American species, ephedra viridis, does not contain the ephedrine alkaloid, but does contain the pseudoephedrine alkaloid.
According to one study, total alkaloid content has been noted among the ephedra distachya (subspecies Helvetica), with total phenolics content (TPC) measured at approximately 27 mg GAE/gram dry weight
Total flavonoids content (TFC) is measured at 2.1 per milligram QE/gram dry weight. The measurement of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine (dry weight) in ephedra distachya approximates 11.4 and 9.4 respectively, with a combination totaling and 20.8. 
Experiments conducted in laboratories with dry weight does not necessarily mean that potency of the ephedra found in certain supplements equates to those high numbers. It depends on how the plant is grown, cultivated, and prepared for usage.
This product is typically sold in ground herbal form, bulk powder, as seeds for germination or as an ingredient in teas and other medical preparations. Depending on the form and processing method used, alkaloid content on a per-dose basis may be increased or decreased.
Ephedra Distachya Uses
Ephedra and its alkaloids have been used in a number of modern medications that include asthma bronchodilators, cold and flu remedies, and some cough and cold drugs.
The ephedrine alkaloid can cause blood vessels to constrict, forcing the heart to pump harder and faster. It can dilate or widen airways in the lungs, increasing oxygenation.
One of the primary uses of Ephedra Distachya today is not for treatment of asthma, allergies, or lung conditions. Rather, since the 1980s, the most popular use of ephedra and ephedrine alkaloids has been in dietary supplements for weight loss and energy promotion.
A number of small studies have been conducted on the benefits of ephedra usage for weight loss, with varying results. In most cases, the wide variety of results are due to individuals combining other forms of stimulants including caffeine for enhanced benefits.
Results may also vary based on who is using the plant, how it is being used, dietary changes, activity level, genetic factors, other medical conditions and how much weight someone has to lose to begin with.
Based on results from clinical trials and animal studies, ephedra may promote very slight effects on improving performance and endurance. When combined with forms of caffeine, it may promote some weight loss, although a modest result averaging 0.9 kg per month.
Short-term and temporary energy enhancement and some weight-loss may be noted by individuals using ephedra distachya, but such use is always recommended with a balanced and nutritious diet and appropriate levels of exercise.
While ephedra does appear to cause the body to burn more fat and calories, the danger of side effects lead to the withdrawal of this product from the US market and caused it to be banned in many other countries.
Since 2004, the alkaloids ephedrine and pseudoephedrine have been banned in dietary supplements by the FDA. Ephedra Distachya may be legal as a raw herb, but its use in fat burners or diet pills is banned due to the ephedrine alkaloid content.
The dangers of side effects for many outweigh the benefits when it comes to weight loss. Many of the negative effects linked to Ephedra Distachya and other forms of this plant were the result of misuse and abuse.
However, even in healthy people there were reports of negative side effects and harmful outcomes. Some of the potential side effects reported included:
- High Blood Pressure
- Chest Pain
- Irregular Heart Beat
- Heart Attack or Stroke
Side effects increased in frequency and severity at higher dosages. While millions of people were able to use ephedra diet pills safely, the risk of hazardous reactions was deemed to be too high and the product was removed from the market.
Currently, some species of ephedra extract can be used in dietary supplements. But because Ephedra Distachya contains ephedrine alkaloids, it would not be permitted in weight loss products sold in the USA unless it were processed to remove these alkaloids.
Given that many of the purported benefits of this plant come from its ephedrine content, there is a question of whether an ephedrine-free ephedra extract would be effective for weight loss.
If you are interested in using Ephedra Distachya and you live in a country where it is legal and unrestricted, it is recommended to consult with a doctor before taking this natural health product. Your doctor can inform you about safe usage practices and help you decide whether this is the right product for you.