Ephedra Herb Review: Do the BENEFITS Outweigh the Health Risks?
The ephedra herb is one of the oldest known plants used in traditional medicine, with over 2,400 years of recorded use.
It is considered to be one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in Chinese medicine, recommended for the treatment of asthma, allergies, bronchial problems, catarrh, arthritis and more.
The plant contains ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, two alkaloids that have similar effects in the body compared to adrenaline (epinephrine). These herbal alkaloids are both stimulants with a wide range of purported medicinal uses.
The stems of the Ephedra Sinica herb (also known as Ma Huang) have long been brewed into a tea for use as a diuretic, decongestant, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, vasoconstrictor and vasodilator.
This herbal extract is also commonly used to boost energy, increase mental concentration, promote weight loss and suppress the appetite. Ephedrine from Ephedra extracts is often taken by athletes and bodybuilders to help burn fat and as a thermogenic agent.
Ephedra has become a herb of disrepute because of the risk of side effects posed by isolated ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. However, according to the The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants, “using the whole plant rarely gives rise to side-effects.” Click here to buy ephedra supplements online legally without a prescription.
Ephedra Herb Overview
Ephedra is the common name used to refer to a family of plants with 60+ species growing throughout the world.
The most widely recognizable species is E. Sinica (yellow horse, sea grape) which is an evergreen shrub that grows to 16 inches in height. It prefers dry, arid climates and is native to central Asia and parts of China.
The ephedra herb contains a number of components with medicinal properties. Among them include:
- Alkaloids such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine
- Proanthocyanidin compounds
- Amino acids
- Fatty acids
The ephedra sinica herb contains one of the highest concentrations of alkaloids out of the plant family. The stems of this plant provide 0.5-2.5% alkaloids with 30-90% of that consisting of ephedrine.
Numerous species are found throughout the world. Today, over 60 species have been identified. Not all of them exhibit the same properties or provide the same medicinal benefits.
Some species contain ephedrine and no pseudoephedrine or vice versa. The more potent species include,:
- Ephedra intermedia
- Ephedra major
- Ephedra fragilis
- Ephedra distachya
Even among these species, levels of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine differ significantly. Alkaloid content will also depend on where the plant grows, when it is harvested (maturity and time of year), the part of the plant used and how it is processed.
Other alkaloids found in this plant include ephedrine, pseudoephedrine (isoephedrine), norpseudoephedrine (cathine), norephedrine, methylephedrine, and methylpseudoephedrine.
Uses of Ephedra Extract
This plant has been used by cultures around the world including traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine practices from India, the ancient Greeks, Middle Eastern civilizations and Native Americans.
The ephedra herb was most commonly noted as being beneficial in the treatment of lung and breathing conditions. Ephedrine is a stimulant to the central nervous system that works by activating certain adrenergic receptors in the body.
Some of the effects of ephedrine on alpha and beta-adrenergic receptors can result in:
- Constriction of certain blood vessels, increasing blood pressure.
- Trigger the heart muscle to beat faster and harder.
- Prompt the airways in the lungs to dilate, facilitating greater oxygen intake
These effects can provide temporary relief of asthma symptoms such as wheezing and difficulty breathing as well as ameliorating nasal congestion.
These same mechanisms of action can also result in increased metabolism and energy production. As such, the Chinese ephedra herb began to be used more commonly as a weight loss or diet aid. Bodybuilders recognized its ability to promote fat loss and enhance physical stamina and workout intensity.
Ephedrine can stimulate the central nervous system, increase heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and cause your body to produce more heat. This thermogenic activity can increase the amount of calories you burn, even when at rest.
Chinese Ephedra for Weight Loss
A number of studies have been conducted on the use of Ephedra Sinica to promote weight loss. When used alone, studies have shown that it can support weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds a month on average.
One study explored results on overweight Korean women and did note a decline in body mass index as well as total body weight. 
When combined with other stimulants such as caffeine, synephrine or aspirin, results can be increased. It is common to take ephedra herbal extracts with caffeine in an ECA stack.
A meta-analysis conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration examined a number of clinical trials that combined the ephedrine alkaloid with caffeine. These studies confirmed that use of this stack could promote an additional two pounds of fat loss per month over individuals who were not taking the stack, but who followed an appropriate diet and exercise routine. 
While these studies did demonstrate efficacy, there continues to be concern about the misuse and abuse of ephedra products. Combining this herb with other stimulants like caffeine may produce dangerous outcomes in certain individuals.
Is the Ephedra Herb Safe?
Use of this herb may not be safe for everyone. In research studies, a number of adverse effects have been reported including:
- Jitters (hand tremors)
- Loss of Appetite
- Rapid Heart Rate
Additional and more severe adverse reactions are also possible, depending on dosage, the frequency of use, individual health status and whether other supplements are being used.
In serious cases, consumption of herbal ephedra products could cause stroke, heart attack, seizure or death. Over-use of this product may contribute to a number of cardiovascular issues.
It may cause tachycardia (tachyarrhythmia), which is a resting heart rate of greater than 100 beats per minute. Overstimulation of the heart muscle places a strain on this tissue which could lead to major damage if allowed to continue over time.
Ephedrine has also been associated with cases of irregular heart rate known as arrhythmias. This is typically caused by malfunction of electrical stimulus of heart contraction and valve functions. Arrhythmias can increase the potential for having a heart attack.
Because of its effect on the central nervous system, faulty electrical impulses sent from the brain to the heart can also trigger a number of issues including the potential for a heart attack.
It may also cause overstimulation of electrical impulses, neurotransmitter function, and disruption of normal chemical balances in the brain, which can contribute to increased risk of brain seizures.
This product should be used with great caution under the guidance of a physician or trained herbal medicine practitioner. Do not take this plant extract if you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, glaucoma, kidney or liver problems, bladder issues, cardiovascular disease or depression.
Before using the ephedra herb to promote weight loss or boost your energy levels, consider safer alternatives that are available. The benefits of this plant extract do not always outweigh the potential for side effects.
- Kim BS, Song MY, Kim H. The anti-obesity effect of Ephedra sinica through modulation of gut microbiota in obese Korean women. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014 Mar 28;152(3):532-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2014.01.038. Epub 2014 Feb 17.
- FDA.gov. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment Number 76. Ephedra and Ephedrine for Weight Loss and Athletic Performance Enhancement: Clinical Efficacy and Side Effects.