The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.
Persons with a known allergy to ephedra, ephedrine, or pseudoephedrine (Sudafed®) should avoid ephedra. Signs of allergy may include rash, itching, or red, flaking skin.
Side Effects and Warnings
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has collected thousands of reports of serious adverse effects (including over 100 deaths) from the use of various products containing ephedra or ephedrine. The U.S. Federal Government has banned the sale of ephedra since 2004. Consumers are urged to stop using the herbal weight control supplement immediately as it has been linked to numerous adverse health effects including death.
Some people may experience abdominal discomfort (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, constipation), anxiety, dizziness, headache, tremor, insomnia, dry mouth, delirium, or fainting. Ephedra may also cause irritability, euphoria, hallucinations, seizures, or stroke, as well as low potassium levels in the blood, exaggerated reflexes, weakness, muscle aches, muscle damage, depression, mania, agitation, suicidal ideas, or Parkinson's disease-like symptoms. Persons with prior strokes or transient ischemic attacks (TIAs/"mini-strokes"), tremor, or insomnia should avoid ephedra. Individuals with a history of a psychiatric illness, especially if treated with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), must first discuss ephedra with a qualified healthcare provider before taking supplements. Examples of MAOIs include isocarboxazid (Marplan®), phenelzine (Nardil®), and tranylcypromine (Parnate®).
Ephedra can cause chest tightness, irregular heart rhythms, damage to the heart muscle, high blood pressure, heart attack, inflammation of the heart, fluid retention in the lungs, breathing difficulties, dilated cardiomyopathy, left ventricular systolic dysfunction, coronary dissection, thrombosis, or cardiac arrest. Ephedra should be used with extreme caution in persons with a history of heart disease, heart rate disorders, or high blood pressure. Other side effects may include liver damage, kidney stones, difficulty passing urine or pain when urinating, increased urine production, or contractions of the uterus. These potential effects may limit the use of ephedra by people with kidney disease or enlarged prostate. Individuals with thyroid gland disorders or glaucoma should use ephedra cautiously. In theory, ephedra may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised in patients with diabetes or hypoglycemia, and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugar. Serum glucose levels may need to be monitored by a qualified healthcare provider, and medication adjustments may be necessary.
It has been recommended that ephedra (ma huang) use be stopped at least one week prior to major surgical or diagnostic procedures.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Ephedra should not be used during pregnancy, due to risks to the mother and fetus. Ephedrine crosses the placenta, and has been found to increase fetal heart rate. Ephedra may induce uterine contractions.
Ephedra should not be used during breastfeeding, due to risks to the mother and child. Ephedrine crosses into breast milk and has been associated with irritability, crying, and insomnia in infants.