Ephedrine is an herbal product and is considered as a natural stimulant. Earlier it was basically used for chronic asthmatic patients and for treating low blood pressure. Synthetic form of herb Ephedra is used in OTC preparations for asthma and decongestion. But now it is used on a large scale in diet pills. However in USA it is not FDA approved drug for weight loss.
Ephedrine is derived from the Chinese herb ma-huang or the botanical Ephedra. In ancient China (more than 2000 years ago) it was used in the treatment of asthma, influenza, headaches etc.
Ephedra is general term used for mainly 3 species –
- Ephedra sinica,
- Ephedra intermedia and
- Ephedra equisentina.
The active compounds are present in the stem of the plant ma-huang. Phenylalanine derived alkaloids
- phenylpropanolamine or PPA (norephedrine) and
- Cathine (norpseudoephedrine) are the main components. But this alkaloid content differs from species to species.
Mode of action:
Studies have shown that Ephedrine is a sympathomimetic drug. This increases the release of norepinephrine from sympathetic neurons, activates alpha and beta-receptors. It acts on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems of the body. The cardiac output of the body is enhanced because ephedrine affects the heart rate. Its effect on the blood vessels constricts them. This could increase the blood pressure. As a stimulant, it acts on the central nervous system it has strong thermogenic and anorectic properties. It works as appetite suppressant by affecting the satiety center in hypothalamus.
As a sympathomimetic drug it affects the sympathetic nervous system. Its effect on pre-synaptic nerve ends releases noradrenalin. Entering in the synaptic space, this noradrenaline acts on the adrenergic receptors which are present on the fat cells (adipocytes) and a chain of reaction accelerates lipolysis. In the process of lipolysis, triglycerides are broken into glycerol and fatty acids.
Ephedrine is used for weight loss because this stimulant is known to act on the brain, which in turn activates thermogenesis. This stimulating effect increases heart rate and thus body metabolism is accelerated. It acts on cardiovascular and respiratory system and activates receptor sites, which help in calorie consumption. The body fat is converted into fatty acids releasing energy from the fat. This herb also increases stamina.
Generally in an Ephedrine weight loss pill, Ephedrine is combined with caffeine, which also is a stimulant and another ingredient, which usually is appetite suppressant. When Ephedrine is combined with caffeine, it has shown good results in weight loss.
Various studies on obese persons were conducted using either combination of ephedrine + caffeine or plain ephedrine or plain caffeine or a placebo. Results showed that combination of ephedrine + caffeine gives perceptibly more weight loss than placebo or plain ephedrine or plain caffeine. These results were more apparent from 8 th week to 24 weeks. If used in proper proportions these two compounds show synergistic effects. Lipolysis of body fat is triggered by these Ephedrine weight loss pills as they create thermogenic effect in body tissue. The ratio of 1 : 10 is found to give optimum results in weight loss.
If ephedrine or caffeine were taken alone, independently they failed to produce any significant weight loss results.
In comparative short period of 6 months it is (combination of ephedrine + caffeine) shown to achieve significant weight loss. But study based data for its long-term effects (more than 6 months) are not available.
Side effects of Ephedrine weight loss pills:
The above-mentioned studies were also evaluated for any harmful side effects. But no considerable changes were found in blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar or the heart rate. However, some other studies have shown side effect like nausea, palpitation, anxiety, initial rise in blood pressure, initial tachycardia, slowed GI motility .
When ephedrine alone was tested for side effects, it was found to cause anxiety, increased heart rate and possibility of aggressiveness. Long-term use of this stimulant alone may lead to serious side effects. So it should be used in moderate amounts and also its use should be monitored.
A study reported that the toxic effects of ephedrine are due to overdose, but if taken in moderate dosage, the herb itself doesn’t cause many adverse effects. As it is claimed to e a ‘natural’ or herbal product, so thinking it to be totally safe, people use it in overdose, resulting in harmful side effects.