What is the difference between ephedra extract and real ephedra sinica which has now been banned from supplements by the FDA?
Ephedra extract is an ingredient found in weight loss supplements like Green Stinger, Lipodrene, Stimerex ES and Fastin.
You may be wondering why this version of ephedra is legal to use in dietary supplements and whether it actually works for weight loss. Does it contain the ephedrine alkaloids which are necessary to promote stimulant effects?
It is important for consumers to know that not all ephedra extracts are the same and those versions sold in legal fat burners today do not contain any active ephedrine alkaloids. While some forms of this extract may boost fat loss results, other forms are largely ineffective. Click here to buy ephedra supplements online legally without a prescription.
Ephedra extract refers broadly to any concentrated or processed form of ephedra plant matter. There can be significant differences in the potency of this extract depend on the source of the plant used, which portion of the plant is used and how the extract is processed.
Ephedra refers to a family of 60+ plants that grow around the world. This plant thrives in dry, desert-like regions such as the Middle East, North Africa, the Western United States, Mexico, as well as throughout Asia.
Not all species of ephedra have the same properties when used medicinally. They contain different phytochemicals, nutrients, minerals and alkaloids depending on where they grow.
Two alkaloids are believed to produce the majority of the physiological effects associated with ephedra. These alkaloids are ephedrine and pseudoephedrine and their concentrations vary depending on which version of the plant is used.
Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine both have a stimulatory effect on the nervous system, causing energy levels to increase and boosting metabolism. Both are touted as beneficial for athletic performance, fat burning, appetite suppression and weight loss.
Not all ephedra species contain these stimulating alkaloids. Some species of this plant contain one of the two alkaloids while other species have only trace amounts of either.
The potency of any ephedra extract will depend on whether it is taken from one of those plants that contains a high level of ephedrine versus a plant with low alkaloid content.
Ephedra Sincia, E. Major, E. Distacya and E. Intermedia are species known to have high levels while E. Nevadensis and E. Viridis have low levels or no ephedrine content whatsoever.
Furthermore, different parts of the plant are known to have higher alkaloid content than others. The stems of the Ephedra Sinica (Ma Huang) species are composed of up to 2.5% alkaloids while the leaves and roots contain significantly less. In most cases, an ephedra leaf extract will be less potent than an ephedra stem extract.
The extracts can also be processed in a way to make them more condensed and to increase the strength of the effects. For example, a 2:1 ephedra extract will convert 2 oz of dried or raw herb into 1 oz of ground powder. A 10:1 extract will convert 10 oz into 1 oz of finished product, requiring a smaller dose.
Extracts can be prepared into bulk powders, liquid tinctures, capsules, teas or resins. Most of the ephedra extract sold today comes in the form of a powder encapsulated in either gelatin or vegetarian capsules, although there are also some pill tablet products and liquid drops available.
Does Ephedra Extract Contain Ephedrine?
While technically an ephedra extract refers to any form of extraction from the ephedra plant, in practice this term is usually used today to refer to a specific class of supplements. These are ephedra supplements that do not contain any of the ephedrine alkaloids.
Another way to think about this is by analogy: Ephedra extract without ephedrine alkaloids is the same thing as decaffeinated coffee. Just like caffeine is the active ingredient in coffee beans, ephedrine is the active ingredient in the ephedra plant.
Why use ephedra without its active alkaloid? In 2004, the FDA made the decision to ban the sale of dietary supplements that contained ephedrine alkaloids. They ruled that this alkaloid posed a significant risk of serious side effects and was therefore an adulterant.
This ban only applied to species of this plant that contained ephedrine. Supplement manufacturers realized that they could still sell ephedra diet pills and fat burners, so long as they used an extract that did not include this alkaloid.
Does ephedra extract work for weight loss if it does not contain real alkaloids? There are other alkaloids present in this plant that can promote fat loss, but the results will not be the same as the real Ephedra Sinica supplements sold prior to 2004.
Effects of Ephedra Extracts
The Ephedra plant contains a number of additional alkaloids, flavonoids, and tannins that may support weight loss. This herb has been used medicinally by cultures around the world, dating back over thousands of years.
In Chinese medicine, it was typically used as a treatment for breathing conditions, asthma, allergies, bronchitis, sinusitis as well as fevers. Its primary mechanism of action is to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, cause airways to dilate and improve circulation and oxygenation.
Almost all of these effects are attributed to the alkaloid content of the plant. The alkaloids that exhibit physiological effects include:
- Increase blood pressure by constricting arteries
- Dilate nasal passages and lung airways by relaxing smooth muscle tissues; acts as a bronchodilator
- Influence behaviors related to breathing, heart rate, digestion, alertness and focus
- Trigger more forceful contractions of the cardiac muscle
The primary alkaloids are nonselective alpha and beta-receptor agonists, which means that ephedra can stimulate or activate alpha and beta receptors in the body. These are the same receptors that are turned on by the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline.
Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine have the ability to:
Furthermore, ephedra can enhance fat-burning potential by increasing heat production in the body. This process is also known as thermogenesis and it plays a major part in determining basal metabolic rate.
By increasing thermogenic activity and raising the body’s set temperature, ephedrine is believed to increase resting calorie expenditure. This can contribute to modest weight loss in a short period of time.
While use of stimulants can boost metabolism and make it easier to lose weight quickly, these drugs also have dangerous side effects. Overusing stimulants can put strain on the cardiovascular system and lead to negative outcomes like increased blood pressure, rapid heart rate and adrenal fatigue.
In extreme cases, high dosages of ephedrine and ephedra were linked to heart attacks, strokes, and even several fatalities. As a result, the FDA stepped in and made it illegal to sell ephedra supplements that contained ephedrine alkaloids.
Do Ephedra Products Work?
While you can no longer buy ephedra supplements with real ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, you can purchase extracts that have these alkaloids removed.
Do these ephedra extract fat burners actually work or are they all hype? We mentioned earlier that using an extract product is like drinking coffee without caffeine.
However, most of the ephedra supplements that you can buy legally today include other stimulants and thermogenic agents to compensate for the loss of ephedrine alkaloids. These ingredient combinations can at times match, if not exceed, the original results of ephedrine in such products.
For example, most ephedra diet pills sold currently contain Bitter Orange, Green tea extract, Cayenne pepper extract, or Yohimbe bark extract, all of which can promote stimulation of the central nervous system.
Bitter Orange contains p-synephrine, a chemical component very similar in mechanism of action to ephedrine. Yohimbine from Yohimbe bark extract also has a powerful fat burning effect, although it works in a slightly different way.
Consumer reviews of ephedra extract products are generally positive and suggest that they can provide many of the same effects as the now-banned ephedrine-based diet pills. When combined with appropriate diet and exercise, consumers may find the ephedra extract supplements that are legal today as effective as the products of the past.
On the other hand, many of these products can also carry the same risk of adverse reactions linked to use of ephedrine. Responsible use is important to minimize the change of negative effects.
While use of ephedrine is restricted in dietary supplements, the raw ephedra herb is still legal to buy in the United States for traditional medicine practices.
A number of Chinese herbalists continue to prescribe and sell Ephedra Sinica (Ma Huang) extracts for the treatment of lung and bladder disorders. This herb may be prepared into a tincture, brewed into a tea or sold as a bulk powder.
Chinese herbal medicine practitioners use a number of extraction methods to prepare the herb for consumption. One method is percolation to prepare an alcohol tincture. The stems of the plant may also be ground into a powder and mixed with honey or sprinkled onto food.
Note that it is not recommended to try to extract ephedrine from Ma Huang plants on your own. While there are recipes online that describe the extraction process, it is difficult to control quality and potency.
Also note that there are strict regulations governing the import, export and distribution of ephedrine around the world due to its use as a precursor in the manufacturing of illicit methamphetamine. Individuals ordering equipment to make their own plant extracts at home run the risk of having their purchases seized and potentially being investigated for criminal activity.
Ephedra extract supplements are still legal in the United States so long as they do not contain any of the banned ephedrine or pseudoephedrine alkaloids.
While these products may not work in the same way, they can promote some of the same benefits for energy, metabolism and weight loss. Most of the ephedra diet pills sold presently will contain other stimulants that mimic some of the effects of ephedrine alkaloids.
Even without the presence of these stimulating alkaloids, anyone using ephedra extract products may experience side effects and adverse reactions. These fat burner supplements are not appropriate for all individuals.
Some of the negative effects reported by users can range from dizziness to blurred vision, headaches, to heart palpitations. Depending on tolerance and sensitivity, some may experience more severe side effects than others.
Consult with a doctor before using any dietary supplements. Get approval before taking weight loss aids if you have a history of medical conditions or are currently taking other medications or supplements.