Ephedra Supplements: How to Tell REAL vs. Fake?
There are two very different types of ephedra supplements sold around the world. Consumers today are often not aware of which type they’re buying.
You may know ephedra as one of the most popular fat-burning supplements ever sold, with millions of people turning to this natural herb to help them lose weight.
Until 2004, ephedra diet pills like Lipodrene, Metabolife, Xenadrine and Hydroxuct were among the best-selling dietary supplements in the USA. However, that year the US Food and Drug Administration banned ephedra alkaloids from being used in supplements.
Even though research studies showed that this plant extract could boost short-term fat loss results, the herb was also shown to cause dangerous side effects in some users. A small number of individuals taking high doses presented with serious cardiovascular complications.
Ephedra supplements are making a comeback in recent years, but many have questions surrounding their resurgence. How are these new ephedra extract supplements legal to sell? Are they safe to take and do they work? Click here to buy ephedra supplements online legally without a prescription.
Types of Ephedra Supplements
Ephedra is the name of a plant that can grow in a variety of geographical regions around the world. It grows in dry, desert-like conditions in Asia, North Africa, parts of Europe, the American southwest, Mexico and parts of South America.
Over 60 different species of ephedra have been identified, including the most widely recognizable Chinese species known as Ma Huang or Ephedra sinica.
Ma Huang has been used by Chinese healers and medical practitioners for over 2,000 years. It is used in the treatment of lung ailments and breathing difficulties such as pneumonia, asthma, sinus congestion, and colds.
Other members of the Ephedraceae plant family include E. viridis, E. nevadensis, and E. californica, collective referred to as Mormon tea, Cowboy tea, Joint Fir, Squaw tea Green ephedra.
These American species were used by Native herbal medicine practitioners treat superficial wounds, fevers, urinary issues and infections. The plant was also believed to have a protective effect against venereal disease and was given the nickname “Whorehouse tea”.
Weight loss supplements have been made using several of these species of ephedra. However, there is a big difference between supplements made with Chinese ephedra versus American ephedra. That difference is the presence of ephedrine alkaloids.
Ephedrine is the active chemical ingredient found in the Ephedra sinica plant. It is an alkaloid, which is a type of nitrogen-based organic compound that has physiological effects when consumed by humans.
Ephedra contains six main alkaloids that promote its effects on the body. These include: ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, norephedrine, methylephedrine, norpseudoephedrine, and methylpseudoephedrine.
The alkaloids make up only 0.5% to 2.5% of the dry weight of the plant but contribute the majority of its mechanisms of action. Of these, ephedrine is the most active and amounts to 30-90% of the total alkaloid content.
When bodybuilders, dieters or athletes took ephedra supplements of the past, they did so as a source of ephedrine. However, this ingredient is now banned from dietary supplements. The ban specifically applies to products that include the six aforementioned ephedra alkaloids.
But not all species of the ephedra plant family contain ephedrine alkaloids. Therefore, not all species are banned from supplements. Products sold today that contain ephedra without the ephedra are typically referred to as “ephedra extract” pills.
Ephedra Extract Pills
How effective are weight loss supplements sold with ephedra extract? There is very little research data available to measure this.
Many studies have been conducted on the use of ephedrine for fat loss. This ingredient was shown to be effective in clinical trials and safe when used in controlled studies.
Using an ephedra supplement with the ephedrine alkaloids removed is not going to be as effective. Just like if you were to drink decaffeinated coffee you would not expect it to increase energy levels in the same way as caffeinated drinks.
Extracts from the American species E. viridis and E. nevadensis contain some compounds that may contribute to weight reduction, such as tannins, glycans, polyphenols and catechins.
But for the majority of ephedra supplements sold in 2018, the active ingredients will be other stimulants used alongside this herbal extract. This can include caffeine, Synephrine, Acacia Rigidula, DMAA, EGCG (Green Tea extract), Phenylethylamine, Forskolin and more.
Ephedra supplements come in a variety of forms: energy drinks, oral capsules, tablets, liquid extracts or concentrated energy shots. Some vendors also supply the raw herb in crushed leaf or powder form to brew as a tea.
Using Ephedra Supplements for Weight Loss
Ephedra is used as a diet pill because it can both cause your body to burn more calories and enable you to consume fewer calories. It is a stimulant that increases energy levels, suppresses the appetite and boosts passive metabolism.
A few studies have been conducted on the benefits of ephedra supplements for fat loss. However, these studies have used versions of the extract that contain ephedrine alkaloids.
Supplements with this alkaloid have been demonstrated to promote increased weight loss per month compared to individuals on a placebo. Studies have determined that products are more effective in conjunction with caffeine, almost doubling the potential body weight reduction. 
Individuals may lose more weight by restricting calorie intake or by exercising at a higher intensity. Other factors can play a role in potential results such as:
- Body composition
- Fitness level
- Overall health status
Ephedrine is capable of activating adrenergic receptors in the body, which regulate stimulation of the Central Nervous System. By turning on these receptors, it can cause your body to begin releasing more fat from adipose tissue and breaking it down for energy.
This compound also promotes something known as thermogenesis, which is how your body produces heat. By slightly raising core temperature, it can cause you to use up 4-10% more calories in a day.
If you buy ephedra supplements online today, they will not contain the ephedrine alkaloid. Instead, they will contain other ingredients that are purported to imitate some of the same effects.
In assessing reviews of a wide variety of ephedra extract pills, reviewers are mixed as to how these fat burners compare to the original Ephedra Sinica products. Some users feel they work just as well as the now-banned formulations while others say that nothing comes close to producing the same effects.
Not everyone experiences benefits and some people experience more adverse reactions than positive effects. Some people are more sensitive to the stimulatory effects of these products and find that they make them feel unwell.
If using ephedra energy or weight loss pills for the first time, start at the lowest dosage possible. This will allow you to gauge your response while reducing the risk of adverse effects.
Using ephedra with the primary alkaloids ephedrine and pseudoephedrine is banned in dietary supplements in countries around the world. Manufacturers have sought to replace the alkaloids with other stimulants that mimic some of their effects
A few of the common substitutes include:
- Caffeine anhydrous
- Bitter Orange (synephrine)
- Yohimbe bark (yohimbine)
- Guarana extract
- Kola nut
- Yerba mate
- Hoodia extract
- Cassia nomame
- 6,7 Dihydroxybergamottin
Some of the ingredients used to simulate the effects of ephedrine are no safer than the original. Using any stimulants in high doses or in combination can contribute to dangerous effects.
One of the closest components to ephedrine is synephrine. Bitter Orange fruit extract (Citrus aurantium) contains both synephrine and octopamine. These alkaloids can accelerate heart rate (tachycardia) and raise blood pressure (hypertension).
For many users, this effect is temporary, lasting anywhere between one to three hours. For others, the effect may last longer or lead to serious health problems.
While the stimulants found in ephedra supplements today can aid in some weight loss, diet and adequate levels of exercise are important for long-term changes.
Legal Status of Ephedrine and Ephedra
It is easy to get confused by the legal status of ephedrine vs. ephedra. Laws vary in different locations and these products are treated differently depending on the form they are used in.
Regarding dietary supplements, ephedrine is illegal as an ingredient. In 2003, the FDA published a news release regarding their intentions to prohibit the sale of ephedra-containing dietary supplements due to health risks.
It was determined that ephedra alkaloids could cause harmful side effects on the cardiovascular system in certain circumstances. Studies found that ephedra placed added strain on the the circulatory system, increased blood pressure, and heightened risk for heart attacks and strokes. 
While many media outlets initially reported that this ban prevented ephedra from being used in supplements, a close reading of the law showed that this was not the case. Only the ephedrine alkaloids were banned, not the whole plant.
Bottom Line: In the United State, ephedra supplements are legal with the alkaloids removed. Only forms of the plant with the alkaloids intact are illegal.
Other countries like Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, China and India have different laws. They treat supplements containing ephedra extract as illegal, regardless of whether the alkaloids are present or not.
However, ephedra (with ephedrine) is legal in many countries if sold as a raw herb. In recognition of its traditional use for asthma and lung conditions, it can still be prescribed by licensed herbalists. It is often prepared into a tea for such uses.
Furthermore, ephedrine itself is legal if used in over-the-counter medications for the alleviation of breathing complaints. This alkaloid works to dilate bronchial tubes in the lungs and open sinuses and nasal passages.
It is still available without a prescription as a component of asthma medications, bronchodilators, decongestants and allergy relief products. Ephedra alkaloids have been utilized for the treatment of asthma conditions since the 1920’s. However, it is no longer the preferred pharmaceutical agent for the treatment of these conditions. 
It was not until 1970 that physicians released this drug had weight loss benefits for the treatment of obese patients. This is a modern use for the compound.
The difference in legal status reflects the fact that this product is more prone to causing side effects when taken for weight loss. As a diet pill, it is often misused, abused or overused. Regulatory agencies ruled that it was still safe to take, so long as it was not advertised as a fat burner or energy enhancer.
Potential for Negative Effects
Ephedra alkaloid products were banned due to alarming reports of side effects. In a small number of users, and life-threatening medical conditions were reported.
Even at low dosages, use of ephedrine pills may not be appropriate for everyone. This product can cause adverse reactions in users with health problems, those being treated with prescription drugs and in people with high sensitivity to stimulants.
Using newer ephedra supplements without the primary alkaloids may be safer, but may still cause some of the following side effects:
- Nausea and upset stomach
- Brain fog or difficulty concentrating
- Jitters (fine motor tremors of the hands)
- Difficulty sleeping
- Heart palpitations
- Vomiting or diarrhea
These products should not be used by individuals under 18 years of age. Pregnant and breast-feeding women should also avoid use.
Serious cardiovascular events are possible, particularly if combining multiple stimulants or using in high doses. Negative effects can include myocarditis (inflammation of the myocardium), myocardial infarction (interrupted blood flow), cardiac arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat.
Ephedra extract supplements are a legal alternative to diet pills containing the banned ephedrine compound. While some of these supplements may be safer than the originals, be aware some of the substitutes replacing ephedrine can be dangerous if misused.
Ephedra continues to be one of the most widely sought-after weight loss and energy-boosting products. These pills are believed to enhance athletic performance, suppress appetite cravings, improve focus and wakefulness while also helping users burn more fat.
But this product does not work for everyone and it is not without a risk of side effects. If you do take ephedra fat burners, be responsible with your use and consult with a doctor first.
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Ephedra
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Ephedra and Ephedrine for Weight Loss and Athletic Performance Enhancement. Clinical Efficacy and Side Effects Summary.
- HHS.gov Archive. News Release. FDA Announces Plans to Prohibit Sales of Dietary Supplements Containing Ephedra