Ephedra is a shrub, native to northern areas of China and Mongolia and found mainly in dry desert-like conditions. It has traditionally been used in weight loss supplements, although has been removed from the market in the USA since 2004 over growing health concerns. There are various species of Ephedra, with some being more potent and containing higher volumes of ephedrine alkaloids (which produces the pharmaceutical effect).

Medical Uses of Ephedra

Ephedra has traditionally been used in Chinese medicine to relieve symptoms of asthma, hayfever, and colds. It is currently used mainly in supplements marketed for weight loss. Several studies have shown moderate increases in weight loss over a period of 6 months or more.

Effects on Performance

Studies have shown that normal doses of Ephedra do not produce performance-enhancing effects. However, large doses have been shown to improve performance in cyclists and combining Ephedra with caffeine supplementation has been shown to improve performance whilst having a higher risk of side-effects. Ephedra contains stimulants and thermogenic and so raises the heart rate, constricts blood vessels, dilates bronchioles and increases metabolism.

Side-Effects of Ephedra

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Arrhythmia (irregularity the heart natural rhythm)
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Seizure (fits or convulsions)
  • Cerebrovascular accident (stroke)
  • Hyperthermia (raised body temperature)
  • Skin reactions
  • Irritability
  • Headache