Topic Overview

NOTE: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the sale of dietary supplements that contain ephedra (ephedrine alkaloids) because of concerns about its safety. The product has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, and some deaths.

What is ephedra?

Ephedra—also known as ma huang and by its scientific name, Ephedra sinica—is an herbal product that comes from an evergreen plant. The Chinese used these plants 5,000 years ago, possibly for the treatment of asthma and hay fever. But they used plant preparations unlike the modern ephedra supplements that are now banned.

Ephedra stimulates the nervous system and the heart.

Serious problems are associated with ephedra. There have been some reports of heart attacks and deaths after its use.

Is ephedra safe?

The FDA has banned the sale of dietary supplements that contain ephedra (ephedrine alkaloids) because of concerns about its safety. The ban doesn't apply to other uses of ephedra, such as herbal teas or Chinese herbal remedies.

Serious problems from using ephedra include:

  • Seizures.
  • Stroke.
  • Heart attack.
  • Sudden death.

Other side effects include:

For people who have heart disease, diabetes, or heart problems, using ephedra may make these conditions worse.

Always tell your doctor if you are using a natural health product or if you are thinking about combining a natural health product with your standard medical treatment. It may not be safe to stop your standard medical treatment and use only a natural health product.

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Murray MT, Pizzorno JE (2013). Ephedra species. In JE Pizzorno, MT Murray, eds., Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th ed., pp. 731–734. St. Louis: Mosby.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine

Current as ofFebruary 20, 2015

Current as of: February 20, 2015