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Ephedrine- Secret to Weight Loss?

Wendy Dickson


Claims From the Web:

What is Ephedrine…

Ephedrine is an over the counter herbal stimulant stemmed from the Chinese plant ma huang. The Chinese discovered this stimulant over two thousand years ago for the purpose of treating asthma, cold and flu symptoms, chills, lack of perspiration, headache, and edema. Ephedrine is presently found in herbal stimulants, prescription cold and flu remedies, and asthmatic aid products. Because it is a stimulant, ephedrine motivates thermogenesis in the body. This effect results in speeding up the heart rate causing the metabolism to expedite. Due to this increased metabolism, ephedrine can also be used as a weight loss supplement


How does it aid in weight loss…

Ephedrine contributes to weight loss with its thermogenetic effects by heating up the body, which in turn results in burning fat. It speeds up the metabolic rate and calorie consumption by opening the receptor sites in the heart and lungs. Consequently, fatty acids are released from the stored fat cells and the transition from fat to energy is greatly increased. Another beneficial effect is directed to the muscles increasing stamina and endurance for body builders ( One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition of March in 1987 showed that a group of rats lost 75% of their body fat from ephedrine. Another study performed in the International Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders in February of 1993 made claims that "ephedrine increases the release of brain catecholomines to enhance thermogenesis, without significant cardiovascular effects" and concluded that "varying combinations of ephedrine and aspirin could provide a safe combination with the necessary thermogenetic properties to assist in the management of obesity" (

Harmful side effects…

In addition to the reports about the positive aspects of ephedrine, harmful side affects have also been declared. It can alter emotions causing aggressiveness or anxiety that can lead an individual to a risk of personal injury. Other harmful side effects include an increased heart rate and blood pressure possibly leading to dehydration and decreased circulation. Long term more serious effects that these conditions can lead to include cerebral hemorrhage, strokes, or heart irregularities ( Some serious dangers such as death have been related to the use of ephedrine. For this reason, regulatory action on this herb is being considered. The herb has been discovered to be the beginning ingredient in methamphetamine laboratories for the product of the illegal stimulant drug ( Other abuses of this herb have also been reported causing death. A recent report from August 28, 1996 has declared that over 800 Americans have suffered side effects including 17 deaths


Ephedrine has shown to have positive effects relating to weight loss through controlling appetite and speeding up the metabolism. However, risks are involved with the intake of this stimulant as any other drug. Dangers of abuse and possible side effects must always be carefully considered before taking any drug. Ephedrine is a stimulant and should be taken only in moderate amounts. With a combination of a good diet and exercise, the stimulant ephedrine could increase the rate of weight loss.


Claims from Scientific Research…

Positive results: 

(Weight loss)

Scientific research shows that stimulants can have a positive effect regarding to weight loss, yet drugs alone cannot perform miracles. All efforts in weight loss should include a healthy diet and exercise. However, other factors have contributed to aiding in weight loss along with a healthy lifestyle. Ephedrine alone has shown no proof, yet the combination of ephedrine and caffeine has repeatedly proven in many studies to have positive results in losing weight.

          One particular study by the Research Department of Human Nutrition, Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Denmark conducted a randomized, placebo controlled, double blind study with obese patients. It compared 180 obese patients treated with diet (4.2 MJ/day) and either an ephedrine/caffeine combination (20mg/200mg), ephedrine (20mg), caffeine (200mg) or placebo 3 times a day for 24 weeks. Then it was continued for another 24 weeks as 99 patients completed treatment with an ephedrine/caffeine compound in an open trial design. This study over such a significant time period showed results that indicated a statistically significant (p=0.02) weight loss of 1.1kg. Another similar 8 week randomized, double blind, placebo controlled study showed lean body mass conserving properties. This research concludes positive effects on weight loss with an ephedrine/caffeine combination. It further indicates that the combination contains properties that conserve lean body mass. No withdrawal symptoms or side effects were indicated.

          Another similar study conducted by the same research department concentrated on decreasing body fat. In this double blind study 14 obese women were treated with a diet and either an ephedrine 20 mg/caffeine 200 mg combination or a placebo three times a day for 8 weeks. These results suggested that there was no difference in weight loss, but the ephedrine/caffeine combination showed a loss of 4.5 kg more body fat and 2.8 kg less fat free mass. This provides evidence that the drug combination can aid in decreasing body fat and preserving fat free mass in obese humans.

          A different placebo controlled, double-blind study examined the compound ephedrine/caffeine compared to ephedrine, caffeine and placebo. The results of the study demonstrated that the mean weight loss was clearly greater with the combination of ephedrine/caffeine (16.6 +/- 6.8 kg) than with the placebo (13.2 +/- 6.6 kg). The separate ephedrine and caffeine groups were similar to the placebo group. This report concludes that the combination of ephedrine and caffeine is effective in weight loss, yet neither ephedrine nor caffeine alone is an effective means of losing weight.


The Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical School of Boston conducted a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled study concerning the safety of the combination of ephedrine, caffeine, and aspirin for treatment of obesity involving 24 obese humans. Over an 8 week period, the drug group's weight loss was 2.2 kg compared to 0.7 kg for placebo. The study continued 5 months later for 26 more months in an unblinded crossover with placebo subjects now receiving ephedrine, caffeine, and aspirin. It continued to show that the combination of drugs supports sustained weight loss. In all the studies, however, there were no changes in heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose, insulin, or cholesterol levels. Also, no differences in the frequency of side effects were discovered. The study's examination of the safety of these drugs showed no harmful side effects.

            The Department of Pharmaceutics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences investigated episodes of ephedrine toxicity and at least 17 reported deaths. The study involved 10 subjects in a randomized, crossover study examining the effect of ephedrine in the commercially sold ephedrine product Ma Huang and a 25 mg ephedrine capsule. The study concluded that toxicity from the ephedrine based product results from overdose, not the drug itself when consumed in moderate amounts. The researchers suggested that off labeled claims of "natural" medicinal agents prompt people to believe they are completely safe; as a result, consumers abuse the products leading to serious health hazards.

(Energy agent):

          Another factor in ephedrine's aid in weight loss is its increased effect on energy expenditure. The Autonomic Dysfunction center at Vanderbilt University performed a randomized, crossover study that gave ephedrine (50 mg) or placebo 3 times a day during two 24 hour periods in a whole-room indirect calorimeter, which measures minute by minute energy expenditure. The results of this double-blind study indicated energy expenditure after 24 hours was 3.6% greater with ephedrine than with placebo showing that ephedrine has a moderate increase on energy expenditure in normal human subjects.

          The researchers of the Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care of the Sahlgren University Hospital conducted a similar study concerning the effects of ephedrine on oxygen consumption and cardiac output. The results showed that ephedrine increases oxygen demand and supply in a similar magnitude. The Defense and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine also investigated the effects of the combination of caffeine and ephedrine on time exhaustion during high intensity exercise. The study concluded that the subjects’ exertion during exercise was significantly lower after ephedrine/caffeine than compared to placebo. Their combination prolonged exercise time to exhaustion, attributed to the increased central nervous system stimulation.


            Weight loss is an important issue in today's society, and there is no simple solution to the problem. However, many factors contribute to aiding the weight loss process. Naturally, a healthy diet and exercise are the critical elements involved in losing weight and should be incorporated in any attempt to lose weight. Many scientific research studies have been investigating additional methods along with a healthy lifestyle to overcome obesity, however. Research studies performed show positive results to weight loss with the combination of the stimulants ephedrine and caffeine. This combination of stimulants helps to suppress appetite and to stimulate energy expenditure. Research shows that by itself, ephedrine has no effect in weight loss; yet with the addition of caffeine, significant improvements have been discovered. Thermogenic combinations of ephedrine and caffeine promote thermogenetic stimulation in various tissues, which may induce hypertrophy of skeletal muscle. All the while, lean body tissue is increased and body fat is reduced by stimulation of lipolysis and energy expenditure. Although cases of dangers associated with ephedrine have been reported, ephedrine for the most part is safe and has minor side effects. Ephedrine, like other drugs, is harmful when abused. An overdose of this stimulant can have fatal results such as death. Consequently, a moderate and careful intake of ephedrine and caffeine combined with a healthy diet and sufficient exercise has shown to have beneficial results for losing weight and increasing energy expenditure.


Astrup A., Breum L., Toubro S., Hein P., & Quaad F., (1992) "The effect and safety of an ephedrine/caffeine compound compared to ephedrine, caffeine and placebo in obese subjects on an energy restricted diet. A double blind trial." International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders. Apr; 16(4): 269-77.

Astrup A., Buemann B., Christensen N.J., Toubro S., Thorbek G., Victor O.J., & Quaad F., (1992) "The effect of ephedrine/caffeine mixture on energy expenditure and body composition in obese women." Metabolism. Jul; 41(7): 686-8.

Bell, D.G., Jacobs I., & Zamecnik J., (1998) "Effects of caffeine, ephedrine and their combination on time to exhaustion during high intensity exercise." Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. Apr; 77(5): 427-33.

Daly P.A., Krieger D. R., Dulloo A. G., Young J. B., & Landsberg L., (1993) "Ephedrine, caffeine and aspirin: safety and efficiency for treatment of human obesity." (1993) International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders. Feb; 17 Suppl: S73-8.

Gurley B. J., Gardner S. F., White L. M., & Wang P. L., (1998) "Ephedrine pharmacokinetics after the ingestion of nutritional supplements containing Ephedra sinica (ma huang)" Ther. Drug Monit. Aug; 20(4): 439-45

Radstrom M., Bengtsson J., Ederberg S., Bengtsson A., Loswick A. C., & Bengtson J. P., (1995) "Effects of ephedrine on oxygen consumption and cardiac output." Acta Anaesthesiol Scand. Nov; 39(8): 1084-7.

Shannon J. R., Gottesdiener K., Jordan J., Chen K., Flattery S., Larson P. J., Candelore M. R., Gertz B., Robertson D., & Sun M., (1999) "Acute effect of ephedrine on 24-hour energy balance." Clinical Science (Colch). May; 96(5) 483-91.

Toubro S., Astrup A.V., Breum L., & Quaade F., (1993) "Saftey and efficacy of long term treatment with ephedrine, caffeine and an ephedrine/caffeine mixture." International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders. Feb;17 Suppl 1:S69-72.




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