Ephedra (sometimes seen as ephedrine) also known as Ma Huang, is a desert plant grown mainly in Mongolia and bordering regions of China. It has been used in Chinese medicine for over 5,000 years for respiratory conditions such as asthma, and as a natural decongestant and antihistamine. In the US, it is used as a weight loss product, or energy booster. Ephedra acts as a stimulant increasing the metabolic rate of the body, and causing the temperature to elevate slightly, thereby burning calories faster. It has an added bonus of suppressing the appetite. The down side of ephedra is that it increases your heart rate and elevates your blood pressure.
Caffeine is also a stimulant found in a variety of products such as: coffee, tea, soft drinks, some candies, and in certain over the counter medications such as Excedrine. Caffeine also occurs naturally in some herbs such as guarana seed and cola (sometimes spelled Kola) nuts. Caffeine is used in tablet or capsule form as an energy booster. Some people use it to help them wake up in the mornings or stay alert during long drives or long study nights. As a stimulant it also can raise your blood pressure and increase your heart rate.
Herbal products sold in the United States are not regulated by the FDA because they are not considered medicines. The FDA does regulate the amount of caffeine added to foods and beverages. No more than 6mg per ounce may be added to beverages/foods. It is estimated that a moderate consumption of caffeine would be 300mg/day. Coffee has approximately 85mg in an 8 ounce cup, expresso-40mg, Pepsi-25, and Mountain Dew-37.
Diet tablets can be found in most grocery stores, discount stores, convenience stores and health food stores. They may be listed as herbal, natural or even drug free. One label reports their product to be Anatural and Adrug free, yet it contains 12mg of ephedra alkaloids per tablet. Other brands listed ingredients such as Ma Huang (which is ephedra) 24mg per tablet, plus 60mg caffeine per tablet. One brand listed as one of the ingredients 335mg of ephedra per dose. The FDA is proposing limits on the amount of ephedra alkaloids per serving to 8mg and warning against using more than 24mg per day. They also recommend the pills not be taken for more than seven days.
For those considering using over the counter weight loss products the following should be considered carefully before buying any products:
- Don't use ephedra products that contain caffeine. This includes any that contain guarana and cola (kola) nuts.
- When taking prescription medications or being treated for any medical conditions you should consult with your healthcare provider.
- If you are pregnant or breast feeding you should not take any medications or supplements before consulting with your healthcare provider.
- Medications should not be taken for more than the recommended length of time stated on the bottle or package. Most medications should not be taken for more than seven days without consulting with a healthcare provider.
- Never take more than the recommended dosage without advice from a healthcare provider.
- Individuals with high blood pressure, thyroid disease, diabetes, or heart problems should not take any over the counter medications without seeking advice from a healthcare provider.
- Be cautious of any weight loss product that guarantees more than 2 pounds of weight per week or any that promise you they will burn fat while you sleep.
Remember the best weight loss program consists of moderate intake of foods, reducing the amount of fat and sugar in the diet and an exercise program that fits your lifestyle.
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For more information regarding healthy ways to loose weight contact the ASU Health Clinic at (325) 942-2171.