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Alternative medicine: Ephedra
Wed, 09 Apr 2008 17:39:36
Ephedra is a nervous stimulant with bronchodilator properties that can help fight depression,
dyspnea, edema, asthma and allergies.
Botanical: Ephedra vulgaris (RICH.)
Family: N.O. Gnetaceae
Synonym: Ephedrine. Epitonin. Ma Huang. Joint fir, ma huang, Mormon tea, whorehouse tea,
The plant is native to West Central China, Southern Siberia and Japan.
Ephedra is a small, evergreen shrub with upright or sprawling stems and small leaves.
Part Used Medicinally:
The dried stems, aerial parts and the roots (ma huang gen).
The main compounds found in this herb are ephedrine (a phenylethylamine alkaloid),
pseudoephedrine, flavonoids, catechols, lignans, tannin and polysaccharides. The roots
contain tyrosine derivatives, spermine alkaloids and procyanidins.
Ephedra stimulates the heart and central nervous system and has diuretic properties.
Ephedra is effective in treating the flu and common colds. It helps with acute coryza (rhinitis),
runny nose, nasal congestion, fevers, cough, dyspnea (shortness of breath).
Ephedra also has valuable antispasmodic properties and is therefore, a good treatment for
asthma and hay fever.
It helps treat nasal congestion caused by hay fever, allergic rhinitis, sinusitis and bronchial
The herb is used as a central nervous stimulant, bronchodilator and peripheral
vasoconstrictor. It improves concentration and helps fight depression, myasthenia gravis and
Its stimulant and thermogenic properties increase fat burning and relatively the basal
metabolism, leading to weight loss.
Although ephedra is considered an illegal substance in sports, it is commonly used to improve
athletic performance as it relieves fatigue and muscular pain. It is also used in several
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The substance has sympathetic nerve stimulant properties resembling adrenaline. It is also
employed for headaches, rheumatism, bed-wetting and various kidney diseases.
Ephedra is used therapeutically as a diaphoretic to help expel exterior pathogens and regulate
the function of the lungs.
In response to reports of ephedra related deaths and adverse effects, the FDA banned the
sale of ephedra-containing supplements on April 12, 2004.
Individuals with a known allergy to ephedra, ephedrine or pseudoephedrine as well as those
with prior strokes or transient ischemic attacks, tremors, or insomnia should avoid using the
Several side effects including abdominal discomfort (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of
appetite, constipation), anxiety, dizziness, headache, tremor, insomnia, profuse perspiration,
hyperthermia, dehydration, dry mouth, delirium and fainting spells have been reported for
It can also cause irritability, euphoria, hallucinations, seizures, irregular heartbeat, heart
attack, stroke, as well as low potassium levels, exaggerated reflexes, weakness, muscular
pain, severe skin reactions, itchiness of the scalp and skin, depression, mania, agitation,
suicidal ideas, or Parkinson's disease-like symptoms.
Individuals with a history of stroke, transient ischemic attacks, cerebral insufficiency, or other
similar disorders should avoid the use of ephedra.
Pregnant women should not use ephedra because it can cause uterine contractions, which
may result in a miscarriage. It also passes into the developing fetus through the mother's
blood, causing irregular fetal heartbeat.
It should not be used when breastfeeding as it causes irritability, crying, and insomnia in
Individuals with heart conditions, high blood pressure and atherosclerosis should not use
ephedra because of its potential effect on heartbeats.
Individuals with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia should not take
ephedra because it decreases the appetite.
Ephedra stimulates the central nervous system, possibly worsening some physical and
emotional disorders, such as anxiety, insomnia, and essential tremors.
Ephedra should also be avoided by individuals with benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH) or
Ephedra causes the pupils to widen (mydriasis), therefore, individuals with narrow-angle
glaucoma should not use it.
Diabetics using insulin or other glucose lowering medications should take ephedra with
caution as it lowers blood sugar levels. It increases blood pressure, placing such individuals at
a greater risk of eye and kidney complications as well as nerve damage.
Individuals with thyroid disorders should not take ephedra because it triggers the production
of the thyroid hormone.
Ephedra should not be used by individuals prone to kidney stone problems.