Ephedra sinica (Ma Huang)
Chinese Ephedra is also
known as "Desert Herb" or "Ma Huang". It is a powerful herb, which grows
mainly in Mongolia and the bordering regions of China. It has been used in
Chinese medicine for at least 5,000 years. Ephedra was found in
60,000-year-old Neolithic gravesites, suggesting its use as a medicinal
plant. Zen monks have used preparations of Ephedra to help maintain
attention and concentration during long meditation sessions. It is rumored
that Ghengis Khan's soldiers used the plant to maintain vigilance during
night watches since the penalty for premature sleep was execution. Mormon
sects, who are not allowed to drink coffee because of religious conviction,
use Ephedra nevadensis as a coffee substitute. 'Mormon tea' stimulates
differently, and has more sexual stimulating effects than coffee. Ephedra is
therefore used in tantric rites as a sexual stimulant. Occasional, moderate
use of Ephedra tea has no toxic effects on humans.
The active ingredients in
Ephedra are naturally occurring ephedra alkaloids, the most important one
being Ephedrine. Ephedrine is one of the most effective remedies known for
the symptoms of asthma, allergies, and sinus problems. Because it has a
stimulating effect, many believe that it contains caffeine. The truth is,
the herb Ephedra by itself contains no caffeine.
The Chinese employ
Ephedra for many uses, including the treatment of asthma and as a natural
decongestant and antihistamine. Herbalists in the West have also discovered
these benefits and Ephedra has become a popular ingredient in herbal
combinations for the respiratory system. Since it also has a thermogenic
effect (increases basal metabolic rate, slightly raising body temperature
and causing calories to be burned at a faster rate), it has also proven to
be an effective aid for weight loss. An added bonus for those who use the
herb for weight management is its appetite-suppressing effect. One of the
side effects of thermogenesis is a slight increase in pulse rate and an
elevation of blood pressure. Ephedra is therefore not recommended for
individuals with high blood pressure, heart problems or hyperthyroidism. It
may also cause problems for people with insomnia and for those who suffer
from panic attacks.
Many herbal manufacturers
spike their Ephedra-containing weight loss products with caffeine. This is
often done by adding herbs that contain caffeine, such as Guarana seeds or
Cola nuts. Caffeine by itself can elevate blood pressure and cause heart
palpitations. When combined with Ephedra this potential is increased. Most
health professionals strongly recommend that Ephedra products should not be
combined with caffeine.
Ephedra has an excellent
safety record considering the large number of people who have used the herb.
(To keep our perspective, remember that 20,000 Americans are hospitalized
each year from taking aspirin.) Medical research has shown that there are
many health risks associated with being even moderately overweight,
including heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. Obesity (defined as 30
pounds or more over your ideal body weight) is considered a major health
problem in the U.S. According to the Center for Disease Control, obesity is
an epidemic resulting in 300,000 deaths each year. Considering these medical
facts, a risk to benefit analysis of Ephedra will clearly indicate that its
potential benefits for weight loss far outweigh its potential to do harm,
especially when taken in a prudent manner.
Important facts to
consider when selecting and using Ephedra products:
- Choose an Ephedra product that uses
the whole herb, not just the extracted ingredient, Ephedrine. The whole
herb contains other ingredients that work synergistically with the
naturally occurring Ephedrine, increasing its effectiveness and decreasing
its potential for undesirable side effects.
- When taking prescription drugs or
being treated for a health condition, check with your health professional
before using Ephedra.
- Reduce dosage if undesirable side
effects occur. Discontinue use entirely if they continue. This includes,
but is not limited to, headache, nervousness, sleeplessness, anxiety,
nausea, and prostate or urinary problems.
- Remember that Ephedra works best
when taken on an empty stomach. The best time to take it is one hour
before meals. Ephedra can also cause nausea in some people when taken with
- To prevent interference with sleep,
don't take Ephedra too late in the day.
- Ephedra should not be used during
pregnancy or lactation, or by individuals with high blood pressure or
those suffering from blood sugar, thyroid, or prostate problems or with
glaucoma. Do not take if currently taking or have recently taken MAO
inhibitor drugs. If taking prescription drugs check with your doctor
before taking Ephedra.
- Ephedra should never be taken on a
continual basis. It is best to take it for no longer than a month at a
time. After a break of a week or two its use can be resumed. Continuous
use can cause adrenal exhaustion and the herb can lose its effectiveness.
How much should be taken? The crude
powdered stems of Ephedra (with less than 1% Ephedrine) are used at 1.5–6
grams per day in tea form
Anyone with high blood
pressure, heart conditions, diabetes, glaucoma, hyperthyroidism, anxiety or
restlessness, impaired circulation to the brain, benign prostatic
hyperplasia with residual urine accumulation, pheochromocytoma, and those
taking MAO-inhibiting antidepressants, digitoxin, or guanethidine should
consult with a physician before using any type of product containing
Ephedra. Ephedra-based products should be avoided during pregnancy and
lactation. Certain medications may interact with Ephedra. It is recommended
that you discuss the use of Ephedra and your current medication(s) with your
doctor or pharmacist.
Mazatec Garden describes the common
uses of many herbs. This is for informational purposes only, as we are not
advising or prescribing herbs for any specific medical condition or for any
specific use. Distribute this information freely.
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