Metabolife 356 with ephedra was one of dozens of popular weight-loss and energy-boosting products sold in the past.
This supplement was promoted as a bodybuilding and diet aid to boost energy and promote weight control.
At its peak, Metabolife 356 was used by millions of people and had projected retail sales of $850-900 million per year. However, this supplement was banned following the FDA’s decision to make ephedrine illegal in dietary supplements.
While research studies did show a modest weight loss effect from combining ephedra with caffeine, these ingredients were also associated with serious adverse events including heart attacks and strokes.
The owners of the Metabolife 356 brand also came under scrutiny for their multi-level marketing scheme and for not reporting side effects to the FDA.
The original Metabolife 356 diet pills with ephedra is no longer available today, but substitutes have been developed that claim to provide the same benefits. How do these products work? Click here to buy ephedra supplements online legally without a prescription.
Metabolife 356 with Ephedra
Metabolife 356 with ephedra was originally manufactured by Metabolife International, Inc., a multi-level marketing company from California.
Metabolife 356 became known as one of the best-selling weight loss supplements of all time, purported to increase energy levels and enhance metabolic rate.
The primary active ingredient in this supplement was 12 mg ephedrine from Ma Huang extract. This supplement also provided 40 mg caffeine from guarana seed extract.
The combination of ephedra with caffeine is known as an EC Stack. Using these two products together has been shown to increase potential fat loss results by up to two times compared to taking ephedrine on its own.
This combination of ingredients was very common in dietary supplements of the time. Compared to other products on the market, Metabolife 356 actually contained a lower dosage of active ingredients. Some products contained two to three times more ephedra and caffeine in comparison.
Ephedra promotes fat loss through several mechanisms:
- Increases thermogenesis or passive metabolic activity
- Suppresses appetite to support a reduced calorie diet
- Increases energy levels and helps users be more active
Bodybuilders, dieters, athletes and more began using this product to help them slim down and to boost energy and motivation.
Other ingredients found in the original Metabolife with Ephedra formula included:
- Ma huang – 12 mg ephedrine
- Guarana seed – 40 mg caffeine
- Vitamin E – 6 IU
- Magnesium chelate – 75 mg
- Zinc chelate – 5 mg
- Chromium picolinate – 75 mcg
- Damiana leaf
- Ginger root
- Goldenseal aerial part
- Gotu kola aerial part
- Nettle leaf
- Sarsaparilla root
- Siberian ginseng root
- Bee pollen
- Bovine complex
- Royal jelly
- Spirulina algae
Many of these ingredients were included in a proprietary blend such that actual dosages were not disclosed.
In one 24-hour metabolic study conducted at Vanderbilt University, 17 moderately obese subjects were given two tablets of Metabolife 356 or a placebo in one day. They were monitored for their 24-hour energy expenditure.
The study showed that patients taking Metabolife with ma huang burned 4.1% more calories than those using a placebo. Over time, this increase in metabolism is purported to result in body weight reduction.
While there was no published study examining the weight loss results of this specific supplement, other studies did show that use of ephedra with caffeine could increase fat loss results compared to a placebo.
Why is Ephedra Considered Dangerous?
Some people did experience positive results when taking Metabolife 356 for weight loss. However, there was also a significant risk of side effects.
Use of ephedra and ephedrine was ultimately banned in the United States because the FDA determined that it posed an unreasonably high risk of adverse effects.
Ephedra Sinica, more commonly known as Chinese Ma Huang is a plant that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Historically, it was used in the treatment of lung issues including asthma, and as a decongestant for sinus issues.
It was not until the 1970’s that researchers in Denmark identified weight loss as a potential effect of this drug. Ephedrine HCL was isolated from the herb and recognized as a stimulant with metabolism-boosting and energy-promoting properties.
It became a prevalent ingredient found in weight-loss products around the world, earning manufacturers millions of dollars in sales.
However, the FDA began receiving increasing reports of serious side effects and adverse reactions. In the late 1990s, the FDA started investigating these negative reports.
In 2003, there was a major media push to ban ephedra alkaloids from dietary supplements following the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler at 23 years of age. He died during spring training of heat stroke, purportedly linked to his use of ephedra.
His body temperature was reported to have reached 108°. The medical examiner determined that ephedrine, one of the primary alkaloids of the ephedra plant, played a role in his death.
It was also determined that the athlete did have a history of borderline high blood pressure as well as “abnormal” liver function. He had been working out intensely before his passing at high temperatures and had not eaten for several days.
According to the report, Bechler took Xenadrine RFA-1 diet pills containing ephedra to quickly drop weight he had gained during off-season .
A number of other sentinel events were reported due to misuse of ephedrine including heart attacks, strokes, seizures, psychosis and diabetic ketoacidosis.
Since 2004, use of ephedra products in the United States has been banned. Specifically, supplements that contain the ephedrine and pseudoephedrine alkaloids are illegal. However, these products are still legal so long as they have the ephedra alkaloids removed.
For many, the dangers and risks of side effects come down to misuse and abuse. There are a number of people in the health supplement industry who believe that the FDA should have placed restrictions on how much ephedra was allowed to be used in supplements as opposed to banning the herb outright.
Brief History of Metabolife
Metabolife 356 was founded by Michael Ellis who created the formula for the product in the late 1980s. Before developing the supplement, Ellis (a former police officer) was indicted for manufacturing methamphetamine in a drug sting.
Ellis took a plea deal, became an informant and was released on probation. During the following years, Ellis created the company Metabolife after the deregulation of dietary supplements in the early 1990s.
When the United States Food and Drug Administration banned the use of ephedra in 2004, the product was removed from the marketplace and was subject to an investigation by the US Congress.
The cofounder and CEO of Metabolife International was determined to have deliberately mislead and made a number of false statements to the U.S. FDA regarding his company’s product.
In 2003, Ellis was indicted on eight counts for making false statements and interfering with FDA proceedings in their regulatory examination of ephedra-containing products.  Ellis also pled guilty to making a number of false statements in the late 1990s regarding the safety of the product.
Some sources claim that between 1997 and 2002, Metabolife 356 had already received approximately 14,000 complaints about side effects caused by their product. Among the complaints were claimed 5 deaths, 43 seizures, 26 strokes and 18 heart attacks. 
In addition to huge losses from declining sales and facing over $1 billion in personal injury legal claims associated with Metabolife 356, the company filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in 2005.
In 2007, the Metabolife brand was purchased by a New York dietary supplement manufacturer (Ideasphere, Inc.).
Metabolife 356 Alternatives
A number of manufacturers claim to sell legal alternatives to the original Metabolife 356 with ephedra.
One product MetaboThin claims to contain the identical ingredients and to be legal to buy over-the-counter in the United States. This cannot be true considering that the type of ephedra used in the original supplement is now prohibited.
MetaboThin is manufactured by American Generic Laboratories (AGL) and contains a proprietary blend that replaces the original formula of Metabolife 356 with 10mg of ephedra extract from the leaves of this plant. It does not specify which species of ephedra this extract comes from.
Dozens of ephedra plant species exist around the world today, including several that are found in the American southwest. The American species of this plant are less potent than the Chinese Ma Huang species because they contain little to no alkaloids.
In other words, MetaboThin contains a type of ephedra that has no ephedrine or pseudoephedrine in it. While this form of ephedra is legal, it is missing the components that provide the stimulatory effect.
MetaboThin does contain other stimulant ingredients in addition to a number of vitamins and minerals. Some of the listed ingredients include:
- 10 mg ephedra extract (leaves)
- 40 mg caffeine (from Guarana seed)
- Acacia rigidula extract (leaves)
- 25 mg Citrus Aurantium (Bitter Orange)
Citrus aurantium is a source of p-synephrine, which is an herbal stimulant that has a similar chemical structure and mechanism of action to ephedrine. It promotes thermogenic activity and boosts metabolism but is not as potent as the ephedra alkaloids.
It may promote some of the weight loss benefits associated with ephedrine, but it may also cause the same side effects. Synephrine extract is an agonist for the sympathetic nervous system, activating some of the same adrenergic receptors as ephedrine.
It influences respiration, heart rate, digestion, and metabolism and is commonly used by athletes and bodybuilders for its energy-producing effects.
Acacia rigidula is another herbal stimulant that is under heightened scrutiny by the FDA. They have concerns about some of the components in the plant which are similar to beta-methylphenylethylamine or BMPEA, an unlawful dietary ingredient.
Use of stimulants for fat loss may be effective in the short-term, but may not be safe for everyone. A number of clinical studies and reports published in medical journals are noting serious potential side effects from combinations of multiple stimulants.
These products can put excess strain on the cardiovascular system, especially when they are used at high dosages or taken by people with a history of high blood pressure. Individuals seeking accelerated weight loss need to weigh the risks of use with the benefits.
Where to Buy Online
Note that you cannot buy the original Metabolife 356 online or in stores anymore. If you see this product advertised online, it is likely a fake or counterfeit version made illegally by a foreign manufacturer.
You can buy ephedra extract supplements without the ephedrine alkaloids from some online specialty sellers including:
- Ephedra Outlet (MetaboThin)
- LiveLeanToday (Metabodrene 356, MetaboThin, Metabotrol)
- NutraSource (MetaboLean)
Consumers should be aware of potential dangers of shipping or receiving such products from international sellers. Some packages may be confiscated by border control or even domestic mail service carriers depending on legal status and where you live.
Safety Issues with Ephedra Supplements
Metabolife 356 with Ephedra was associated with a number of serious side effects. Use of any products containing ephedra, ephedrine or pseudoephedrine can result in adverse effects including:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Heart palpitations/racing heart
More serious negative effects can include increased blood pressure, tachycardia, chest pain, hand tremors, mania, psychosis, nervousness, panic attacks, vertigo, migraines, diaphoresis, urinary problems or dry mouth.
There is a risk of heat stroke if taking these products and then engaging in intense physical activity in hot weather. Be sure to drink lots of water and avoid hot temperatures if using these products.
Some people taking ephedra products find it difficult to concentrate or focus. It may cause “brain fog”, confusion or an energy crash when the effects wear off. Others claim increased sensations of irritability, hostility, restlessness, and anxiety.
Longer-term use of ephedra in higher than recommended dosages has been linked to physiological and psychological dependence. It may cause withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation of use. 
Chronic or long-term use of Metabolife 356 and other ephedra fat burners was reported to cause an increased risk of cardiomyopathy or heart failure.
Caution with use is always recommended. Even if taking this supplement as directed on the product label, some people may experience dangerous reactions.
There is a greater risk of side effects when using ephedrine alkaloids in high dosages or combining this ingredient with other stimulants like caffeine in energy pill formulas.
Side effects may be exacerbated in individuals with low fitness levels, obese people, individuals who are older or those with pre-existing conditions. However, some serious adverse reactions were also experienced by young, healthy adults in their 20’s and 30’s.
Do not take ephedra if you are currently using Monoamine Oxidase inhibitor drugs (MAOIs) or medications to treat blood pressure. If you are currently taking any medications, consult with a doctor before using this product or any alternatives.
It is recommended that new users start at the lowest dose. Higher dosages can be uncomfortable for some, producing tachycardia (racing heart, heart palpitations, and trembling).
While many disagree with the FDA’s decision to ban the use of ephedra in products like Metabolife 356, there is clear evidence that use of this ingredient was linked to thousands of reports of serious side effects.
Some of the adverse reactions were life-threatening, including a small number of fatalities that were associated with ephedra diet pills. These numbers may have been small in relation to the millions of people who used this product worldwide, but the risk was determined to be too great to allow these products to stay on the market.
Currently, there are legal alternatives to the original Metabolife 356 with ephedra formula. However, not all of these alternatives are safe and they will provide the best results when used in combination with a balanced diet as well as adequate physical exercise.
- Ernst, Amanda. Metabolife CEO Gets 6 Months for Misleading FDA. New York. June 10, 2008.
- Hettena, Seth. Metabolife: its rise and fall. The Seattle Times. October 17, 2004.
- Associated Press. Untimely death spurred ephedra scrutiny. February 17, 2004
- F. Saverio Bersani, Marialuce Coviello, Claudio Imperatori, Marta Francesconi, Christina M. Hough, Giuseppe Valeriani, Gianfranco De Stefano, Flaminia Bolzan Mariotti Posocco, Rita Santacroce, Amedeo Minichino, Orenlla Corazza. Adverse Psychiatric Effects Associated with Herbal Weight-Loss Products. Journal List. Biomed Res Int. v. 2015; PMC4589574