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Ephedra is a naturally occurring substance that comes from botanicals. The principal active ingredient ephedrine is an amphetamine-like compound that can powerfully stimulate the nervous system and heart. Ephedrine alkaloids are found naturally in a number of plants, including the ephedra species (also known by the traditional Chinese medicine name--ma huang or Chinese Ephedra, or epitonin). In recent years, ephedra products have been marketed as dietary supplements to promote weight loss, increase energy, and enhance athletic performance.

There is strong evidence that ephedra is associated with an increased risk of side effects, possibly even fatal ones. There is no evidence that ephedra products enhance athletic performance. There is little evidence of any benefit except for short-term weight loss. Taken together, the FDA recommends that consumers immediately stop using dietary supplements containing ephedra or ephedrine alkaloids.

While respecting the traditional uses of herbal medicines, their long history of use, and their potential health benefits, NCCAM believes that ephedra poses unique public health risks that warrant the FDA's actions to prohibit the sale of ephedra-containing dietary supplements.

Consumers need to be informed of the potential risks and benefits of herbal products. It is best to discuss use of herbal products with one's health care provider.

Important note: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises consumers to stop using dietary supplements containing ephedra. In order to protect consumers, the FDA published a final rule on April 12, 2004, that bans the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedrine alkaloids.

After a careful review of the available evidence about the risks and benefits of ephedra in supplements, the FDA found that these supplements present an unreasonable risk of illness or injury to consumers. The data showed little evidence of ephedra's effectiveness, except for short-term weight loss, while confirming that the substance raises blood pressure and stresses the heart. The increased risk of heart problems and strokes negates any benefits of weight loss.

Source: Medic8


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