Ephedra is a naturally occurring substance that comes from botanicals and is used to combat obesity and excessive weight in adults. The principal active ingredient is an amphetamine-like compound that can powerfully stimulate the nervous system and heart. The ephedra species (also known by the traditional Chinese medicine name–ma huang or Chinese Ephedra, or epitonin) have been marketed as dietary supplements to promote weight loss, increase energy, and enhance athletic performance.
Ephedra is an herbal supplement taken to increase weight loss by burning fat and increasing energy levels. Ephedra raises the body’s metabolism and creates a thermogenic (increase in metabolism and fat burning) response.
Since ephedra is a botanical substance, it is not regulated by the FDA. This means by law, the FDA cannot check the safety or effectiveness of herbal products and may not require herbal makers to disclose health hazards they find.
Side effects associated with taking ephedra include high blood pressure, heart problems, insomnia, anxiety, and nausea.
The FDA has advised consumers to stop using dietary supplements containing ephedra due to serious heart complications associated with its use. 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 FDA concluded that the increased risk of heart problems and strokes negates any benefits of weight loss.
Ephedra is contraindicated in female patients who are pregnant or nursing. Patients are also advised to consult with their physician before using the product if they have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart or thyroid disease, enlarged prostate, glaucoma, psychiatric illness, recurrent headaches, or depression.
What is Ephedra’s role as a sports supplement?
Ephedra is most commonly used by bodybuilders and regular dieters wishing to cut body fat. Although the original purpose is a nasal decongestant, recent studies have shown it acts as a potent weight loss supplement.
What evidence was collected to determine the safety and effectiveness of ephedra products?
The FDA reviewed information about ephedra’s pharmacology, studies of its safety and effectiveness, newly available adverse event reports, and the RAND Corporation report–a review of the published scientific literature on ephedra efficacy and safety, sponsored by NCCAM and the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements. In addition, the FDA considered additional recent studies confirming that ephedra use raises blood pressure and otherwise stresses the circulatory system. In February 2003, the agency solicited public comments regarding ephedra’s side effects and whether ephedra-containing dietary supplements pose a “significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury.”
How can I tell if I’ve ingested a dangerous amount of Ephedra?
Ephedra side effects usually occur at above average doses, but can occur at even normal doses. They may include fast heartbeat, anxiety, and jitterness. Harsher side effects are generally only seen at doses above recommended level and include high blood pressure, vomiting and very fast heartbeat.
What is DESHA?
DESHA is a legislation act that was passed in 1994 that says dietary supplements must be assumed to be safe unless proved otherwise. This means that companies are free to sell their products until the FDA can prove they are dangerous. Protection under DESHA has increased the herbal industry’s growth because supplement makers can spend millions of dollars on marketing instead of investing this money into research and testing. It is also important to note that under this legislation, there is no standardization of manufacturing of herbs or supplements. Although many in the supplement industry are policing themselves, it is important to be aware that supplements often contain varying amounts of active ingredients.
Can I file a lawsuit if I have suffered damages from taking Ephedra?
Possibly. While all medications have certain, anticipated side effects, a drug manufacturer has a duty to inform physicians adequately regarding the known risks associated with its drugs. If a manufacturer fails to do so, it can be held responsible to patients who are injured as the result of inadequate warnings, under a legal theory known as “product liability.” Depending upon the particular circumstances of your case, damages may include recovery for any of the following:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future pain and suffering
- Lost wages
- Loss of future earning capacity
- Emotional distress
If you or a loved one has experienced any health problems while taking Ephedra, you should contact your doctor immediately. You may also wish to contact an experienced Ephedra lawyer to discuss your legal options. As all legal claims are subject to time limits, however, you may risk forfeiture of your right to financial compensation if you delay.