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Ephedra Diet Pills Debate

Likely one of the most controversial weight loss products and diet pill ingredients is Ephedra and its associated Ephedrine Alkaloids. There is still a heated debate about the use of Ephedra as a weight loss aid, with one side arguing that ephedra is very effective for weight loss and the other side arguing that ephedra can causeĀ adverse side-effects, including death. Here I would like to explore both sides of the Ephedra Diet Pills Debate and try to shed some light on why there is so much controversy surrounding this popular weight loss supplement.

History and Uses of Ephedra

Ephedra comes from the plant Ephedra sinica, which is native to China and also known as “Chinese Ephedra” and Ma Huang. Ephedra has been used in Chinese herbal medicine and Ayurveda for thousands of years as a treatment for common ailments, such as hay fever, asthma, bronchitis, rheumatism and the common cold.

There is a species of Ephedra that grows in North America commonly referred to as Mormon Tea. This small shrub was used by Native Americans and pioneers who drank tea made with this herb. Although not as potent as the Asian species, North American species of Ephedra contain enough ephedrine-related alkaloid ingredients to provide some of the medicinal benefits.

In 1924, Ephedra was introduced to North America as a decongestant and bronchodilator for asthma. It is unclear exactly when diet pills started using ephedra, but by the 1980’s the use of Ephedra as a weight loss supplement was rampant.

Following numerous reports of adverse health reactions and deaths associated with Ephedra use, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) passed a law in 2004 banning all weight loss supplements containing ephedra and ephedrine alkaloids. Ephedra is not banned in Canada, but is classified as a prescription medication that can only be obtained through a doctor. Other countries, such as Europe still permit the sale of ephedra diet pills and weight loss supplements containing ephedra.

Ephedra is also used as a component in the illegal drug Methamphetamine.

Ephedra and Weight Loss

The most active components of Ephedra are ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which act similarly to amphetamines in the body by increasing heart rate, blood pressure and suppressing appetite. The effects of Ephedra are similar to those caused by other sympathomimetic drugs, such as the prescription weight loss medications Phentermine and Bontril.

There has been a number of published studies that support the use of Ephedra as a weight loss supplement. An example of such as study compared results from controlled trials of ephedra and ephedrine used for weight loss. The study concluded that “Ephedrine and ephedra promote modest short-term weight loss (0.9 kg/mo more than placebo) in clinical trials” (Journal of the American Medical Association. 2003 Mar 26;289(12):1537-45). Other studies showed that the combination of Ephedra with Caffeine (International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders. 2002 May;26(5):593-604) rendered even better weight loss results than ephedra alone.

Risks of Ephedra Use

Once Ephedra and ephedrine alkaloids became a common ingredient in many diet pills, reports of side-effects, and even deaths, related to the use of ephedra began to surface. Two of the most famous of these reports, both occuring in 2003, was the death of a 23-year-old Baltimore Orioles pitcher and the death of a 16-year-old football player both linked to the use of ephedra. These highly publicised deaths spurred a public backlash against Ephedra products that finally ended in the ban of ephedra and ephedrine alkaloids in the United States in 2004.

The FDA has published its current view of the use of Ephedra as:

FDA has long regarded ephedra-based dietary supplements as potential health hazards. Substantial evidence of harm emerged in 2003, when a major study reported more than 16,000 adverse events associated with the use of ephedra-containing dietary supplements, including heart palpitations, tremors and insomnia. The study also found little evidence that ephedra is effective in boosting physical activities and weight loss — as claimed by its promoters. FDA subsequently determined that ephedra presents an unreasonable risk of illness or injury. On April 12, 2004, the agency’s final rule prohibiting the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra went into effect.

Ephedra Diet Pills Debate

There is no doubt that consuming ephedra and ephedrine alkaloids poses some health risks. In some cases combining these substances with other drugs, such as caffeine and asparin can increase the health risks even more. Many people, however, still use ephedra products for weight loss and performance enhancement and a high percentage of these people do not experience adverse health effects.

Some supporters of ephedra use say that the media and government has warped the truth about the dangers of this weight loss product. For example, take the story about the 23-year-old Baltimore Orioles pitcher, Steve Bechler that has been used as evidence that Ephedra kills. What the media fails to tell you is that at the time of his death, Bechler weighed approximately 320 pounds. On the fateful day that he collapsed and died, Bechler was practising baseball in the field, where the temperature was 81 degrees and the humidity 75 percent. The New York City Medical Examiner Dr. Michael M. Baden concluded that Bechler “died of a heat stroke precipitated by his morbid obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease, adverse weather conditions, physical exertion, and inadequate screening, monitoring and medical supervision” and that the ephedra diet pills Bechler was taking “…did not cause or contribute to Mr. Bechler’s death.”

There is an associated risk of taking any medication, and diet pills are no exception. But in the case of Ephedra, most medical professionals are of the opinion that the benefits of taking this weight loss product are far outweighed by the potential for adverse health effects. For people who are interested in taking thermogenic diet pills, it is recommended that they explore the many safer alternatives to ephedra, such as Phentramin-D.

1 comment to Ephedra Diet Pills Debate

  • I think that the benefits of an Ephedra supplementation outweighs the risks by far. IĀ“m taking Ephedra and ECA Stacks for years now on and off and my last full body check up at the doctor was perfect for my age.

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