Ephedra (Ephedra sinica, Ephedra viridis)
Ephedra, also known as ma huang, has been used as a medicinal herb for over 5000 years in China. It has been called the world's oldest herbal medicine. This plant looks rather reedy, and it grows in sandy soils in many temperate regions of the world. It was at the center of a large controversy in the USA, where it was used as a diet supplement to help people lose weight. The FDA declared it was dangerous and banned its sale. This was due to the herb's side effects and several deaths in conjunction with its use. E. sinica is the variety in question. E. viridus, also known as Mormon tea, has lesser amounts of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.
Key Medicinal Uses
Internally Ephedra has been used in China for thousands of years to treat asthma, hay fever, flu, headaches and colds. It is most well-known however, for its use as a weight loss drug. While it does have qualities that help a person burn fat, the potential for misuse was too tempting for many, resulting in its ban as a dietary supplement. Some also take the herb for improved sports performance.
Externally Not used externally.
Stems, leaves The stems and leaves of the ephedra plant are dried and put into capsules, tablets, teas, extracts and tinctures.
Due to the ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, this herb should not be taken in large amounts. These compounds directly stimulate the heart and nervous system. If it is prescribed for use by a certified herbalist or Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, follow the instructions exactly.
Some people experience severe cardiac episodes after taking ephedra, including stroke, heart attack and sudden death. Others who have a reaction to this herb may get headaches, anxiety, nausea, dry mouth, psychosis, kidney stones, tremors, heart damage, restlessness, high blood pressure, sleep problems, increased urination and irritation of the stomach. Children and pregnant or lactating women should avoid. Do not combine with caffeine, as this may make side effects worse.
Ephedra is not recommended for people with heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, insomnia, glaucoma, eating disorders, liver or kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, mental conditions, prostate or urinary disorders and seizures.
Preparation and Dosage
If you are prescribed the herb by a practitioner, follow the directions carefully. It is usually taken by mouth. Wash it down with a full glass of water. If taken with food, it may reduce stomach irritation. One should not take more than 100 mg of ephedra per day for longer than 12 weeks. This dose may still be too high for some people.
If you take too much, seek medical attention as soon as possible.