Ephedra Tea Benefits, Recipe & Weight Loss Results – Is it Safe?

Ephedra TeaEphedra tea has been consumed as a medicinal beverage for thousands of years.

Brewed using the Ma Huang (Ephedra Sinica) plant, this herb was first referenced in the Chinese medicine handbook Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing in 100 AD.

Traditionally, it was used to treat symptoms of the flu, colds, bronchial asthma and other lung conditions. The stems were used to dilate bronchial vessels while stimulating the nervous system.

An American species of the plant Ephedra Viridis was also used to make an herbal concoction known as Mormon Tea. However, this plant has a distinct alkaloid profile from the Chinese species.

While traditionally used to treat breathing conditions and nasal congestion, ephedra is better known today as a weight loss pill and for enhancing physical performance.

How do you prepare ephedra tea and is this beverage safe to consume? This article will examine the historical use of Ma Huang tea as well as its modern use for weight loss and the risk of potential for side effects. Click here to buy ephedra supplements online legally without a prescription.

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Ephedra Tea Review

Ephedra tea refers to any type of tea brewed from the leaves, stems, roots or fruit of the ephedra plant. It is also known as Ma Huang tea, which refers specifically to tea made from the Ephedra Sinica plant.

This herbal tea has been used by Chinese medical practitioners for thousands of years to treat common lung and breathing ailments. It was prescribed for relief from asthma, bronchitis and symptoms of the common cold.

Ephedra is the family name of a deciduous shrub that grows around the world in desert or arid environments. Over 60 different species of this plant have been categorized internationally.

Chinese Ma Huang is one of the most potent species of the plant. It contains the highest concentration of alkaloids such as ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, norephedrine, and norpseudoephedrine which have a stimulatory effect on the central nervous system.

Other versions of this tea are brewed from American species of the ephedra plant. Mormon tea, Squaw Tea, Teamster’s Tea, Brigham Tea or Whorehouse Tea all refer to teas brewed using Ephedra Viridis, Ephedra Nevadensis or Ephedra Californica.

These versions of the plant do not contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine alkaloids. While they still have stimulating effects and have been used in traditional medicine, Mormon Tea does not promote the same physiological response as other variations of Ephedra tea. [1]

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Ephedra Tea Recipes

Depending on the reasons for drinking this tea, herbalists recommend different recipes. This plant extract may be combined with other herbs such as apricot seed, ginger, gypsum (Shi Gao) or scullcap root (Huang Qin) for certain indications.

Recipes posted online are typically intended for treatment of bronchial, sinus, or lung conditions. Before taking this tea decongestant or a bronchodilator to relieve symptoms of asthma, consult with a trained Herbal Medicine Practitioner to determine appropriate use.

Make sure that you are using the correct recipe for the species of Ephedra that you have available. There is a difference in how the tea is prepared and how much of the herb is used if you are making Chinese ephedra tea (Ma Huang or E. sinica), as opposed to Mormon tea (E. viridis or E. nevadensis).

The portion of the plant used – root, stems, leaves, flowers – can also have an influence on the recipe. Some parts of the plant are more potent and contain higher levels of ephedrine alkaloids.

The standard recipe utilizes the dried stems, loose tea, or ground powder boiled in hot water. Some sources also provide liquid tincture or tea bags. To prepare the tea you will need:
One common Chinese ephedra tea (or ephedrine tea) recipe that can utilize either teabag or loose tea ephedra follows:

  • ¼ -1 tsp. (teaspoon) dried ephedra (stems)
  • 8 ounces boiling water
  • Pour water over the tea and allow to steep for 5- 10 minutes.

Many find the taste unpleasant and bitter. Sweetening with honey or sugar is an option. Some recipes recommend adding milk to moderate the taste.

The amount of the ephedra plant that is used to make the tea will vary depending on personal preference, reasons for consuming the tea and on the species of plant used. Below is a guide to common dosages with different versions of the plant:

  • Chinese Ma Huang – 2 to 6 g
  • Mormon tea – 4 to 12 g
  • Roots of Western ephedra (Mormon tea) – 6 to 15 g

Follow label instructions when brewing ephedra tea that you have purchased online. Different suppliers may provide plant extracts of different potency which can affect the recommended dosage.

For example, fresh ephedra stems will require a larger quantity to be used than the dried, concentrated stems. This is because fresh stems contain more water weight.

Many Asian source of the tea provide instructions in their native language. If possible, contact the seller and request an English translation or conversion of measurements if not found on the label.

What is Ephedrine Tea?

What is the difference between ephedrine and ephedra? You will sometimes see internet sources refer to recipes for “ephedrine tea”.

These sources are usually conflating ephedrine alkaloids with the ephedra plant by mistake. Ephedrine is the active ingredient that is found within ephedra tea. As an analogy, ephedrine is to caffeine like ephedra is to the coffee bean.

However, not all forms of ephedra extract contain this alkaloid. Several American species including the E. nevadensis and E. viridis plants have very little alkaloid content in them.

Some consumers buy liquid ephedra extract or the raw herb online to make their own tea recipe at home without realizing they are purchasing Mormon Tea (without any ephedrine alkaloids) instead of Ma Huang tea.

This beverage was given its name because it was often consumed by pioneers of the Mormon faith (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) traveling west across the plains toward Salt Lake City.

The Mormon religion restricts the consumption of caffeine. Ephedra Viridis tea was perceived to increase alertness and combat fatigue and was used as an alternative to coffee. It is believed that Native Americans were the first to show pioneers how to brew a tea from this plant.

This tea was also believed to have wide-ranging curative and preventative benefits. Ephedra Viridis was purported to prevent or relieve symptoms of Venereal disease, although no modern research supports this claim.

If you are buying raw ephedra stems or a bulk powder to brew the tea, it is important to determine which species of this plant you are purchasing. Even if you are buying the real Chinese species of Ephedra Sinica, the alkaloid content in the plant can vary considerably depending on which part of the herb is used.

Other species of this plant that contain ephedrine include E. equinsentina and E. intermedia. The latter plant was also used widely in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and is described in Oriental pharmacopeias.

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Effects and Benefits

The primary reason for drinking ephedra tea historically was to alleviate breathing conditions and dilate airways. It does this by activating receptors in the lungs and nasal passages that cause widening of bronchial passages.

Ephedra is also used as a central nervous system stimulant to increase energy, boost metabolism and promote fat loss. Many of the effects of this herb are attributed to the phenethylamine alkaloids found in certain species of this plant.

Four primary alkaloids are found in the Chinese Ma Huang species (E. sinica):

  • Ephedrine
  • Pseudoephedrine
  • Norpseudoephedrine (cathinone)
  • Norephedrine

The alkaloids make up 1.32% by weight of the plant’s stems. Ephedrine accounts for up to 90% of the alkaloids found in the Chinese species of the botanical.

Other compounds are found as well such as tannins, amino acids, (2S,3R,4S)-3,4-methanoproline, ephedroxane, kynurenate compounds and proanthocyanidins.

Different species of the plant will contain different active compounds and alkaloids. The time of year that the plant is harvested, which parts of the plant are utilized, and processing or extraction methods can also affect potency of the plant. [2]

The stems have a higher presence of alkaloids than the roots or the fruit of the plant. According to some sources, brewing a tea from ephedra roots can have the opposite effect as consuming a tea made from the stems.

The pharmacokinetics and physiological effects of ephedra tea are not as well studied as the effects of synthetic ephedrine HCL. Traditional herbalists contend that use of the whole ephedra herb as a tea produces different effects compared to consumption of the isolated alkaloid.

Ephedrine has a half-life of three to six hours when taken orally. The majority (80%) is excreted through urine within 24 hours; approximately 97% is excreted within 48 hours. [3]

Research shows that this alkaloid causes bronchodilation and vasodilation in peripheral blood vessels. It may increase circulation to the extremities, help to relieve chest tightness, wheezing, breathing difficulties, allergy symptoms and nasal stuffiness.

Ephedrine also increases the heart rate and cardiac output and causes sweating as well as increased urination. In herbal medicine, it is used as a blood purifier and for purported anti-viral benefits.

Herbalists will typically prescribe Ephedra tea at low doses with other herbs to counteract some of the negative effects. They argue that when used properly, the tea is safe and does not cause unwanted side effects. The tea is not consumed in large enough amounts to result in side effects.

Users often say that drinking ephedra tea in moderate doses produces a stimulating effect that is like drinking coffee or a strong green tea. It can boost energy levels, focus, alertness, motivation and combat excessive sleepiness.

Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine found in the tea act as sympathomimetic amines. They stimulate alpha and beta adrenoreceptors and promote the release of norepinephrine in the sympathetic nervous system.

These effects mimic the fight-or-flight response in the body that occurs when we experience periods of stress. Ephedrine mimics some of the physiological changes that are produced by the hormone adrenaline. [6]

Weight Loss Effects

Ephedra was previously one of the best-selling dietary supplements for weight loss. It was found in numerous products promoted for athletic performance, appetite control and energy enhancement.

This herb would typically be combined with natural sources of caffeine and Aspirin (salicylic acid) in an ECA stack. It would also be combined with other sympathomimetic amines and herbal stimulants such as bitter orange.

As of 2004, it is illegal to sell ephedra fat burning supplements that contain ephedrine in the United States. However, the whole botanical can still be purchased from licensed herbal medicine practitioners for making into a tea.

Many previous users of this diet pill are interested in brewing the tea to use for weight loss. Is this tea effective for weight reduction?

Ma Huang can produce short-term benefits for weight management by stimulating the nervous system which increases the rate at which calories are burned. It raises metabolism by 4-10%.

Ephedra is often described as a thermogenic fat burner, which means that it causes your body to generate more heat. Our cells produce body heat by burning fuel such as fatty acids.

This herb also has an appetite-suppressing (anorectic) effect by influencing receptors in the brain that control hunger signals. It influences adrenergic receptors in the hypothalamus that control feelings of satiety (fullness).

Consuming this plant extract can also promote short-term bursts of energy due to its stimulatory effects. Athletes and bodybuilders will often use it as a pre-workout supplement to help them exercise harder at the gym.

Some users say that drinking Ma Huang tea makes them feel more active and increases desire to move during the day and be physically fit.

Research Study Results

Studies into the medicinal effects of the tea are lacking. There are studies on the effects of oral ephedra supplements that report consistent increases in potential weight loss.

In a report sponsored by the US National Institutes of Health, a combination of ephedra plus herbs containing caffeine was associated with increased weight loss of 2.1 pounds per month for up to four months compared to a placebo.

In research studies, ephedra performs better for weight loss when combined with caffeine. When used on its own, the ephedrine alkaloid can promote weight loss of 1.3 pounds per month.

Results will also depend on the dosages of both substances used and other factors such as diet and exercise routines.

One small trial used 4 grams of a concentrated water-based ephedra extract, standardized to contain 31.52 mg of pseudo-ephedrine. This equates to approximately 24 g of the raw Chinese herb.

In this study, the extract was given to 125 obese Korean women who were otherwise healthy. Participants took the capsules for eight weeks while on a low-calorie diet.

At the end of the study, the group taking ephedra had a significant reduction in body mass index (BMI). This is a measure of a person’s body weight in kilograms (kg) divided by height in meters squared (m2). Results differed among the individuals involved in the study. [4]

In another study involving a supplement that combined ephedra with other herbal ingredients (but not containing caffeine), the treatment contributed to an increase in weight loss of 1.8 pounds per month. [5]

Research shows that ephedra and ephedrine are effective for promoting short-term weight loss results. According to the NIH report, “Dietary supplements containing ephedra and botanicals with caffeine is associated with a modest but statistically significant increase in weight loss over a relatively short time (less than or equal to 6 months).”

However, the NIH points out that “No studies have assessed their long-term effects (greater than 6 months).”

While ephedra may make it easier to achieve your weight loss goals, it will not work by itself. To achieve long-term weight loss management, it is necessary to incorporate exercise and dietary changes as well.

Results will also vary among individuals. In one study, a participant was reported to have lost 66 kg of bodyweight while taking an ephedrine/caffeine combination over 13 months.

Not everyone will see positive results and some users will experience more negative effects than positive effects.

Why Ephedra was Banned from Fat Burners

Even though this herb was shown to have benefits for weight loss, it can no longer be sold for this purpose (with some exceptions). Negative side effects were associated with its use and the FDA ruled that it posed an unreasonable risk of serious adverse effects.

In clinical studies, there were few adverse reactions reported. These studies typically involve medical supervision, strict dosage and usage guidelines as well as screening to prevent participants with medical conditions from participating.

When used properly taking ephedra tea for weight loss, energy, or to improve breathing is relatively well tolerated and unlikely to cause harmful effects.

However, when used without the benefit of physician supervision, there is an increased risk of dangerous side effects. The problem lies in the misuse and abuse of ephedra supplements.

Using this herb is reported to increase the risk of nausea, vomiting, anxiety hyperactivity, and heart palpitations by 2-3 times. According to the FDA, excessive dosages of this herb in supplement form have resulted in heart attacks, strokes, seizures and psychiatric symptoms.

As such, in 2004 the FDA instituted a new rule that declared ephedrine an adulterant in dietary supplements. This means no supplement can contain any amount of this alkaloid.

However, the ruling still allows ephedra extract supplements to be sold so long as they have the ephedrine alkaloids removed. Manufactures will typically substitute other ingredients like synephrine in weight loss or energy-promoting products.

Note that the FDA ban only applies to dietary supplements and not the herbal tea. It is still legal to buy and sell the stems, leaves or roots of the plant with ephedrine alkaloids for brewing into a tea.

Where to Buy Ephedra Tea

Depending on where you live, the availability of Ephedra tea may be different. In many parts of the United States and other countries around the world, you will not find ephedra tea products sold in retail stores.

The tea can be purchased online or from licensed herbalists in your local region. Sources of this plant can be found through Chinese sellers on websites like eBay and Alibaba.

Ma Huang tea may also be found in natural food stores, or Chinese apothecaries or pharmacies in areas where Chinese populations still practice many of the traditional medical treatments of the past.

You can also find a form of liquid ephedra extract for sale on Amazon. Note that this is the Mormon Tea version of the plant and will not contain any ephedrine or pseudoephedrine.

Before purchasing this botanical to make into a tea, it is recommended to consult with a doctor or trained herbalists to learn about safe use and determine whether this product is appropriate for you.

Always look for products that are standardized to provide a specific dose of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine.

Is Ephedra Tea Safe?

Serious side effects are rare when drinking ephedra tea made from the whole herb. According to some online sources, there have not been any serious adverse events ever associated with consumption of this raw herb as a tea.

The risk of side effects is mostly associated with over-use of the ephedrine alkaloid when isolated or used in synthetic form.

Some mild negative effects can occur when consuming ephedra tea in high doses or when first drinking the tea. Some experience a brief stimulatory effect such as a racing heart and jitteriness, similar to drinking too much coffee.

Additional unpleasant side effects can include:

  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Fine motor tremors (jitteriness)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headache
  • Nausea

Other rare side effects can include:

  • Skin rash
  • Depressive thoughts
  • Rapid or troubled breathing
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Allergic reaction including hives
  • Chest pain
  • Vomiting
  • Pain or difficulty while urinating
  • Agitation, extreme irritation or hostility

Individuals may experience no side effects when drinking the tea, but some are more sensitive to it than others. In traditional Chinese medicine, this herb would be combined with other herbs to counteract some of the negative effects.

According to Chinese herbal medicine literature, overuse can cause excessive sweating and weaken the body. It should not be used by individuals with insomnia, convulsions, epilepsy, seizure disorders, hypertension, kidney problems, stomach ulcers, cardiac asthma, heart disease, diabetes, hyperthyroid, prostatic enlargement or glaucoma

Interactions may occur with over-the-counter, herbal, or prescription medications. Do not use with cardiac glycosides, sympathomimetic drugs, monamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI), beta blockers or diuretics.

Do not use this herb to relieve symptoms of severe asthma. It should not be used by children or for anyone currently taking bronchodilator medications.

Before considering use of ephedra tea, consult with a physician or qualified herbal medicine practitioner, especially if you have been diagnosed with a medical condition or are taking medications for treatment.

This plant should not be used by pregnant women, women planning to become pregnant, or those who are breast-feeding. It should not be taken by anyone under the age of 18.

Athletes competing in professional sports should be aware that herbal stimulants are banned by numerous sporting organizations including the International Olympic Committee, WADA, the NCAA, NFL, MLB and NHL.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the use of ephedra alkaloids (ephedrine and pseudoephedrine) from dietary supplements due to an excessive risk of side effects.

According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, over 18,000 complaints of side effects by consumers were made to one manufacturer. While only 284 case reports had sufficient data to be validated, the FDA determined that this herb was unsafe for use in weight loss supplements.

Severe side effects associated with ephedra and its alkaloids include myocardial infarction, strokes, seizures, and cardiotoxicity. Approximately half of the adverse events occurred in otherwise healthy individuals under 30 years of age. [7]

Herbal medicine advocates argue that these serious adverse effects are linked to isolated use of the ephedrine alkaloid in high dosages. No cases of heart attack, stroke or seizure have ever been linked to the consumption of ephedra tea.

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