Natural Health Products
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Ephedra is an evergreen shrub-like plant native to Central Asia and Mongolia. The principal active ingredient, ephedrine, is a compound that can powerfully stimulate the nervous system and heart.
How is this product usually used?
The dried stems and leaves of the plant are used to create capsules, tablets, tinctures, and teas.
Your health care provider may have recommended using this product in other ways. Contact a health care provider if you have questions.
What is this product used for?
Ephedra has been used for more than 5,000 years in China and India to treat conditions such as colds, fever, flu, headaches, asthma, wheezing, and nasal congestion.
It has also been an ingredient in many dietary supplements used for weight loss, increased energy, and enhanced athletic performance.
Your health care provider may have recommended this product for other conditions. Contact a health care provider if you have questions.
What else should I be aware of?
Ephedra may be effective in promoting weight loss when taken for up to 6 months, however it’s unclear whether this benefit will continue long-term.
In 2004, the FDA banned the US sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra. The FDA found that these supplements had an unreasonable risk of injury or illness–particularly cardiovascular complications–and a risk of death. The ban does not apply to traditional Chinese herbal remedies or to products like herbal teas regulated as conventional foods.
Ephedra may interact with the following:
- beta-agonists (e.g., salbutamol, formoterol)
- diabetes medications (e.g., glyburide, metformin)
- ergot derivatives (e.g., dihydroergotamine, ergonovine)
- medications metabolized by liver enzyme cytochrome P450 1A2 (e.g., acetaminophen, olanzapine, propranolol)
- medications that affect heart rhythm (e.g., antidepressants, antiarrhythmics)
- medications that damage the liver
- monoamine oxidase inhibitors (e.g., phenelzine, selegiline)
- seizure medications (e.g., carbamazepine, lamotrigine)
- stimulants (e.g., amphetamines, dextroamphetamine)
- theophyllines (e.g., aminophylline, theophylline)
Using ephedra may worsen many health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and diabetes.
Ephedra may cause seizures in otherwise healthy people as well as in people with seizure disorders.
Taking ephedra can also result in anxiety, difficulty urinating, dry mouth, headache, heart damage, high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, irritation of the stomach, kidney stones, nausea, psychosis, restlessness, sleep problems, and tremors.
People who are pregnant or breast-feeding and children should avoid taking ephedra.
Before taking any new medications, including natural health products, speak to your physician, pharmacist, or other health care provider. Tell your health care provider about any natural health products you may be taking.
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Herbs at a Glance. Ephedra. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/ephedra/
- Natural Medicines Professional Monograph. Ephedra.
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