Are Ephedra-Based Diet Pills Worth the Risks?

While Ephedra-based diet pills had been popular weight loss products, after their ban due to safety concerns and dangerous side effects consumers are still wondering are they safer in lower doses?  Clearly, the FDA does not think so and has even confiscated ephedra products, shut down manufacturing of ephedra diet pills and even went after ephedra marketers.

Does Ephedra really work?

Clearly when it comes to weight loss, consumers want something potent and until Ephdra’s dangerous side effects were discovered, Ephedra was a wildly popular diet pill.  Today, with the ban of Ephedra by the FDA, diet pill marketers no longer manufacture diet products containing Ephedra.  Indeed, fat burners that do not incorporate Ephedra and rather are ephedra-free have become all the rage. There are now Ephedra-free versions of Hydroxycut, Metabolife, Stacker 2, Ripped Fuel, Trimspa and Xenadrine, to mention but a few. What is the difference between Ephedra and Ephedrine? Ephedra is the common name for three principal species: Ephedra sinica, Ephedra equisentina, and Ephedra intermedia. The active compounds in this herb are the phenylalanine-derived alkaloids Ephedrine, Pseudoephedrine, Phenylpropanolamine (Norephedrine), and Cathine (Norpseudoephedrine). Alkaloid content (0.5% to 2.3% total) and composition vary by species and growth conditions. Ephedrine, the most potent alkaloid, can make up 90% of the total alkaloid content. 

Ephedra Diet Pills on the Market

While diet pills such as MeTrim, Lipodrene, Metabothin B56, Metabolife and Natural Trim, among others claim to incorporate Ephedra in their products, with the FDA ban such products likely have non potent ephedra like ingredients that lack the potent power of the real and now banned ephedra ma huang plant.  Ephedra generally was combined with caffeine, or other compounds containing caffeine, to boost the body’s metabolic rate and thermogenesis, and suppress appetite. Ephedra diet pills and Ephedra-based weight loss supplements are also used by bodybuilders to enhance energy release and improve performance. At present, the use of Ephedrine is carefully regulated and monitored in the United States and many other countries. Ephedra (containing significant levels of Ephedrine) have now been banned in the United States.

How does Ephedra work?

Ephedrine in Ephedra stimulates the central nervous system, increases blood pressure, elevates heart rate and dilates lung tissue. These effects promote thermogenesis. Ephedrine promotes lipolysis by enhancing noradrenaline (NA) release from sympathetic nerve terminals. This increase in noradrenaline activates adrenergic receptors which boost cAMP levels in fat and muscle cells. The overall effect is to increase lipolysis in fat cells and protein synthesis in muscle tissue. Caffeine has the ability to inhibit phosphodiesterase activity and interfere with the adenosine receptor. This increases the effectiveness of Ephedrine. Aspirin has also been demonstrated to accentuate the effectiveness of Ephedrine, probably due to its action as a prostaglandin inhibitor. Ephedra may also function as an appetite suppressant by acting on the satiety center in the hypothalamus. Are Ephedra fat burners effective? Many slimmers looking to loose weight are seeking a rapid solution, without having to alter their lifestyles, or unhealthy diets. While many have testified that Ephedra-based fat burners can be effective, the best results are usually achieved through changes to diet and exercise patterns. Despite the advertising hype, few diet pills have proved to have the fat burning potential of a good Ephedra-based formulation. Ephedra has powerful appetite-suppressing characteristics. It also stimulates the release of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter, and activates alpha and beta–adrenergic receptors boosting the body’s fat burning action. Ephedra’s effectiveness appears to be enhanced when combined with caffeine, and can be boosted further by aspirin. There have been over 40 clinical studies that have evaluated Ephedra and Ephedrine alkaloids used in combination with other compounds for weight loss. The use of Ephedrine, Ephedrine plus caffeine, or diet pills containing Ephedra and herbs with caffeine, was associated with a statistically significant increase in weight loss. Both Ephedrine plus caffeine, and Ephedra plus herbs containing caffeine, were somewhat more effective than ephedrine alone in promoting weight loss. Only one study compared Ephedra plus herbs (but without caffeine) with a placebo. The Ephedra-containing product was associated with a weight loss of about 2 pounds/month; more than was associated with a placebo, for up to 3 months of use. No studies assessed the long-term effects on weight loss; the longest published follow-up has been 6 months.

Ephedra Side Effects

In the last ten years, the FDA has received reports of over 150 deaths and 16,000 complaints associated with the use of the Ephedra-based diet pills. Ephedrine in Ephedra can aggravate underlying medical conditions. Traditional contraindications for taking Ephedra include general poor health, high blood pressure, nervousness, insomnia, cardiac arrythmias, heart disease and gastrointestinal problems. Ephedra should not be used during pregnancy because it may cause contraction of the uterus. When ephedrine is combined with other stimulants like caffeine or guarana, its potency is increased, and so are the risks of side effects. These can include headaches, tremors, nervousness, anxiety, hyperactivity, insomnia, nausea, excessive sweating, psychoses, high blood pressure, rapid and irregular heart beat, chest pain, seizures, stroke, and heart attack. Suggested guideline for the use of Ephedra Consult a health care professional before taking Ephedra and use as directed. Do not take products that contain both Ephedra and caffeine, and then continue to drink coffee or other drinks with caffeine. Do not take products that have more than 10 milligrams of Ephedra per dose. Do not take more than 24 milligrams in 24 hours. Do not use Ephedra if you have heart disease, hypertension, thyroid disease, diabetes, enlarged prostate, anxiety, glaucoma or are pregnant. Use Ephedra diet pills in cycles. Take the diet pills for one month, followed by a one month brake. The body can adapt to prolonged use of Ephedra pills, making them less effective. Why should athletes avoid Ephedra? Ephedra diet pills should be avoided at all costs by individuals engaged in competitive sports. Ephedrine is a prohibited performance enhancing drug.  The bottom line on Ephedra Ephedera, particularly in combination with caffeine, is widely considered to be the best fat burner currently available. It is highly recommended, that a medical practitioner be consulted before taking Ephedra.

Ephedra review summary

Diet pills containing Ephedra have come under close scrutiny by regulatory bodies, such as the FDA, because of the high risk of potential adverse side effects. The FDA has been issuing warnings related to Ephedra containing slimming pills since the early 1990’s. In April 2004, the FDA banned the sale of Ephedra based products due to concerns about the potential health risks. A suit by an Ephedra manufacturer was upheld by a Federal District Court judge in Utah on April 14, 2005, because it was found that the FDA had not provided sufficiently robust scientific evidence to justify a ban. The FDA appealed this ruling, and on August 17, 2006 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upheld the FDA’s ban on Ephedra. The sale of Ephedra-containing diet supplements remains illegal in the United States.

Common misspellings: Ehedrine, Ephendra, Ephendrin, Ephendrine, Efedra, Efedrine, Ephredra, afedra, efedra, aphedra

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