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Emily Slaff


I.                Dieting, a desperate industry dedicated thinness


In today’s world women and men’s worth and credibility are measured by their ability to create and maintain the perfect outward appearance.  Women are more of a target for discrimination; however men are not entirely excused.  This obsession, to attain the perfect body, has created an industry among scientists and specialists.  As research continues, ephedra, otherwise known as the herbal fen/phen, is thought to be the most threatening (Maine, 2000). There is an enormous industry of weight loss products and tactics.  The late twentieth century witnessed Americans spending over $50 billion on diet products alone in search of new, quick solutions to lose weight (Maine, 2000).  Along with healthy resolutions to alter one’s appearance, many diet products are merely scams making money on people’s insecurities.  Magic pills, or herbal supplements have taken over the diet industry.  Heated debates about the risks involved with these supplements pose serious concern.                                                                                                                                  



II.           The birth of ephedra


The small shrub, ephedra, which stands one foot tall, is native to the countries of China, Japan, northwest India, and Pakistan.  The stems of the ephedra plant are also known as Ma Huang.  Ephedra alkaloids or compounds were introduced to the United States in the 1920’s (Tyler, 2000).  Now, ephedra can be found growing in abundance throughout Europe and North America. The naturally occurring herb, ephedra, can be found on the shelves of almost any nutrition store, pharmacy, and grocery store.

Ephedra has been used in Asia for thousands of years, and first brought to the US as a remedy for asthma, flu symptoms, fever, and other bronchial complications (Craig, 2001).  Further research found that ephedra, especially when combined with other stimulants, increased energy and assisted in weight loss. 



III.       Ephedra, an aid to weight loss



Products containing ephedra combined with other stimulants, such as caffeine (known as Guarana on some product labels) and aspirin, are primarily used for boosts of energy and weight loss.  The 20mg ephedrine alkaloid, 200mg caffeine, 325 mg aspirin combination (ECA) induces a thermogenic response, which excites the nervous system, elevates heart rate, increases blood pressure, and raises metabolism (Antonio, 2002).  The heat generated by this thermogenic response results increased ability to transform fatty acids stored in fat cells into energy released from the body.  Ephedrine alkaloids also work like other amphetamines in terms of decreasing a person’s appetite.   ECA supplements linked with healthy eating habits and moderate exercise should help reduce body fat and control the appetite, resulting in successful weight loss ( 

Researchers suggest that a person should follow the directions located on the label of the product and never exceed the recommended dosage of 25 mg of ephedra (Craig, 2001)   Experts also agree that a physician should closely observe subjects taking these supplements.  Experts do not argue the effectiveness of the ephedra supplements; disputes emerge with the standpoint of dangerous side effects and health risks.




IV.       Is weight loss worth the possible risks?


With the clinically proven effectiveness ephedra has on assisting weight loss, anyone can see how enticing popping a few pills can be; however, progressively more research focuses on the harmful side effects ephedra might have on the body.  Since ephedra is known to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, increasing heart rate, blood pressure and metabolism, serious risks of heart palpitations, stroke, hypertension, arrhythmia, and cardiac arrest are enhanced.  Adverse side effects are more likely if a person consumes more than the recommended dosage (Carey, 2001).  The daily recommended dosage of ephedra does not exceed 25 mg; however, many feel that to attain optimum weight loss, more is better.  Many researchers agree that is where the danger occurs.  The Food and Drug Administration, FDA does not test herbal products in the same way as drugs.  Therefore, Bill Gurley, a pharmaceutical researcher from the University of Arkansas states, " you really don’t know what you are getting in these products" (Carey, 2001).  He also believes that some consumers do not realize that they are even ingesting ephedra, because of the labels, Ma Huang or Sida Cordifolia, owned by the ephedrine alkaloids.  Ephedra supplements are also linked to the mild cases of nervousness, headache, insomnia, and dizziness; however, these side effects seem to gradually dissipate as the body builds a tolerance to the ingredients. 


V.            Popular Brand Names


Hundreds of products contain the herbal combination (ECA) (Carey, 2001).  Some of the more popular brand names:



Ripped/Diet Fuel

Stacker 1,2,3


Xenadrine RFA-1


Yellow Jackets

Ripped Force

Up your Gas




VI.       Experiments with weight loss


Can you lose more weight with Ephredra? Even without exercise?

Two studies report significant results suggesting YES!


Studies show a significant increase in the amount of weight loss in subjects who actively engage in an ephedra, caffeine, aspirin supplement program compared to subjects who engage in the same study but replace the ECA mixture with a placebo.  At the Exercise Physiologist 2nd Annual Meeting in October 1999, a research study was conducted to investigate the effectiveness of ECA in helping weight loss.  A double blind test divided three groups at random: Group #1- received the recommended dose of ECA, Group #2- received a placebo.  Groups 1 and 2 endured the same exercise regimen.  Group #3- received only the recommended dose of ECA, with no exercise.  Within the eight-week study, Group #1 experienced an average of 3.8 kg more than Group#2.  Group #3 experienced a major reduction in their calorie intake, with an average of a 680-calorie decrease (


The Research Department Of Human Nutrition, Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Denmark achieved similar results in a double blind, study designed to evaluate the potential loss of body fat.  The test consisted of 14 random, obese women.  Half received the 20mg ephedrine/ 200mg caffeine combination, while the remaining half received a placebo.  These women endured the same diet and exercise regimen.  After 8 weeks, results concluded no significant difference in weight loss; however, the women who consumed the ephedrine/caffeine supplement lost 4.5 kg more body fat and less lean body tissue ( 


The results conclude that not only is weight loss possible, subjects can lose more fat and less muscle.


VII.      Ephedrine heights athletic performance



Ephedrine products find a realm of popularity among athletes and body builders.  The supplements increase the athletes’ performance due to the "fight or flight" response on the sympathetic nervous system.  The athletes find themselves in a state of heightened alert with better passage of air and an escalating strength of their muscle contractions (Antonio, 2002)


In a study conducted by the Deference and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine different amounts of ephedrine/caffeine on untrained, male subjects.  A control group received the placebo.  Even with a low dose of the ephedrine/caffeine resulted in a 10-minute difference between the start of the exercise and exhaustion.  Experts suggest that the subjects could exercise 50% longer with the ephedrine/caffeine supplements (Antonio, 2002) 

These impressive results easily explains the trap with young athletes who believe that the more ephedrine, the better the performance.  Danger occurs when people exceed the recommended dose.  During an athlete’s performance without ephedrine, the heart races, dehydration occurs, blood pressure heightens; therefore, the additional effects of ephedrine among athletes can be dangerous.


VIII.   More and More Reports of Danger!


Mild side effects of dehydration, nausea, dizziness, sweating, insomnia, shakiness, and light-headedness, include symptoms of ephedrine products, which seem to gradually disappear over time.  Racing heart, accelerated blood pressure, heart palpitations, and mental distortions include symptoms of ephedrine products, which have led to serious health risks.


A recent assessment by the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition acquired a collection of data pertaining to the number of reports that suggest the harmful risks of ephedrine might not outweigh the benefits.  The study includes a complete account from January 1993 to February 2001:


3,308 negative reports for all diet supplements--- almost half of these (42%) linked to the ephedrine 


137 reports of death--- 59% linked to ephedrine


38 cases of heart attacks---84% linked to ephedrine


98 cases of cardiac arrhythmias---62% liked to ephedrine


144 cases of hypertension--- 63% liked to ephedrine


85 cases of stroke---81% linked to ephedrine


121 cases of seizure---58% linked to ephedrine




The FDA is convinced that these numbers are considerably inaccurate due the suspicion of massive underreporting (Anonymous, 2001).


Evidence that products containing ephedrine can produce a mentality similar to the manic side of bipolar disorder, due to an increase in energy, loss of appetite, heightened alert, insomnia, and extreme concentration.  Experts have even believed that ephedrine has been taken in large doses to achieve a sense of euphoria.  Withdrawal from ephedrine would in turn revert the subject into a depressed mood, the other side of bipolar disorder (Naresh et al., 1998).



IX.       Organizations ban use of ephedrine products.


The International Olympic Committee agreed on the prohibition of ephedrine products.  The lack of cooperation would lead to a disqualification from the games.


        The National Football league unanimously voted on a ban of ephedrine products for the 2001/2002 season. 


The collegiate athletic organization, NCAA, also joined the cause and also banned any use of ephedrine supplements for their athletes (Antonio, 2002).


The Food and Drug Administration raise continual concerns with the possible, harmful risks, and attempted to ban products, containing ephedrine, from the markets.  The FDA proposed ephedrine supplements present an "unreasonable risk of illness or injury under conditions of use suggested or recommended in the labeling."  The FDA admits that research is limited which in turn causes difficulty in the evidence of serious health risks.  Raymond Woosley, a cardiovascular clinical pharmacologist, who has participated in the consultation of the FDA agrees with the petition to ban ephedrine with his bold statement, "I support the call for a ban of these products because there have been too many patients who followed the instructions, read the warnings, and still suffered strokes or heart attacks" (Anonymous, 2001) 

Ephedrine supporters, like Jan M Strode, the spokeswoman for Metabolife International Inc., urges the distribution of regulations and warnings instead of an absolute ban of these products.  Without the substantial scientific statistics, the FDA temporarily withdrew their petition and pleaded for product labels to contain mandatory warnings and instructions on how to follow programs the safest way (Hilts, 2001).


X.           Conclusion


Ephedra was once considered a safe remedy for bronchial and respiratory problems and transformed its concentration towards facilitating weight loss.  Ephedrine or Ma Huang combined with other stimulants including caffeine or Guarana can be an effective aid in most weight loss programs.  Studies show that ephedrine, mixed with caffeine, and aspirin, can improve metabolism, suppress appetite, and increase the body’s calorie consumption.  The mixture can also promote a positive body composition.  Studies have also proven that ephedrine can improve athletic performance and concentration. 

Adverse side effects should not be limited to the concentration of experts.  Consumers should consider the possible dangers and should personally decide if the benefits are worth the risks.  Traces of dangerous health risks produce controversial views of benefits vs. potential injury.  Further research must continue in order to completely understand exactly what is contained in the 3 billion servings of ephedra products consumed each year.  The focus on the effects of ephedra should not discontinue; however, experts should also focus on safe, effective ways to cure obesity as this disease increases every year (







Officials, Ephedra Take Hits by NFL; Football: League rescinds contract offer to game officials and    adds supplement to list of banned substances. (2001, Sep 9). The Los Angeles Times, p. D1.


Petition Urges U.S. to Ban Supplements with Ephedra. (2001, Sep 6). New York Times, p. A19.


Risks of Ephedra Usage in Spotlight. (2001, Aug 27). The Los Angeles Times, p. S1.


Maine, Margo (2000). Body Wars; Making Peace with Women’s Bodies.  Carlsbad, CA: Gurze Books.


Antonio, Jose. (2002, Feb). How safe is Ephedra?. Joe Weider’s Muscle and Fitness, 63, 104-107.


Anonymous, (2001, Oct). Do not use ephedra. Health Letter, 17, 10-12.


Craig, Winston J. (2001, Nov/Dec). Ephedra. Vibrant Life, 17, 38-39.


Tyler, Varro E. (2000, Sep). Two weight loss herbs to watch. Prevention, 52, 227-232.


Anonymous. (2001, Sep 10). Consumer group supports ephedra ban. Chemical Market Reporter, 260,   7.


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