by Stephen LaBounty (2004-05-01)
Ephedra image

I'm standing in the health food store, the one all the jocks, pseudo jocks, wanna-be jocks go to, along with persons who want to lose 5 to 150 pounds. Most are looking for vitamins of various degrees; some, like myself, are looking for some herb combinations in preparation for the cold and flu season.

What catches my attention are several younger persons, say from 18 to 35 years of age, purchasing a plethora of powders, pills, drinks, etc, that contain the substance Ephedra. All of us know of Ephedra: it's been on the news where people have overdosed; some buy the cold tablets containing it for a high; and others are trying to speed up their metabolism so they can lose weight. And we know that if used properly it can be a wonderful decongestant.

Having been one of "those" who used it to improve athletic performance, and seeing the resurgence of better quality Ma-Huang, I thought I'd give you some simple research into Ephedra that might help you understand it in a simpler manner, thereby assisting you in making an informed choice.

The Chinese have been using a plant that the substance ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are derived from, and for the same ailments, asthma, bronchitis, and other upper respiratory complaints. But they also used it, in different and larger doses for headaches, aching bones and joints, hives, and low blood pressure.

The standardized ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are found on most drug store shelves in America and in a variety of products geared toward the athlete, dieter, or those who are trying to enhance sexual sensations or heighten awareness.

But does it work? At typically recommended doses, ephedrine constricts peripheral blood vessels, relieving nasal congestion in mucous tissue and opens up bronchial tubes, making it easier for allergy and asthma sufferers to breathe.

It is rightfully called an "energizer", although this stimulant effect comes at a price. It is the contained ephedrine, an amphetamine-like stimulant, which is responsible for this sensation at certain dosages. It works by revving up the central nervous system and stimulating the heart, increasing the heart rate, and often elevating blood pressure.

No real evidence has ever shown that Ephedra, or its constituents, will "burn" fat, reduce appetite, or result in weight loss. A number of herbalists contend that ephedrine, in combination with caffeine, will be thermogenic (produce body heat) and thus burn certain types of body fat, namely brown adipose tissue. But this does not represent a larger percentage of adult body fat.

Will it harm you? Ephedra is a potent medicine that must be used with care. Failure to do so has proved not only uncomfortable, but fatal is some cases. Like amphetamine, ephedrine at certain dosages stimulates the heart and central nervous system, increases blood pressure,and can cause palpitations, dizziness, skin flushing, anxiety, and sleeplessness to name a few.

Most health care professionals advise that persons with heart problems, thyroid disorders, diabetes, or men with enlarged prostate should be careful in taking Ephedra or its constituents. Those taking blood pressure medicines or antidepressants should exercise great care and consult with their physician first.

Ephedra won't disappear and I'm not attacking the drug offhand. It is something that will continue to flood the bodybuilding and athletic community. It's just knowing some of the side effects that will make the consumer aware of potential problems connected to this over-the-counter compound.