Ephedra: Therapeutic use

Last modified: Sunday, 31. May 2009 - 2:13 pm

Ephedra has been used to treat a variety of ailments for thousands of years. Five thousand years ago the Chinese used ephedra as a medication to treat sweating, lung and bronchial constriction, water retention, coughing, shortness of breath, the common cold, and fevers.
Ephedra was introduced in the United States in the earlier part of the twentieth century when physicians began prescribing it for its bronchodilating and decongesting properties. Ephedra alkaloids stimulate certain receptors in the body, such as the airways in the lungs. By stimulating the airways, ephedra may open the blocked airways or nasal passages that occur with the common cold and asthma. This may help alleviate symptoms of the common cold. Ephedra can also affect other parts of the body. It also stimulates other receptors in the body, including receptors in the heart. This can increase the heart rate of ephedra users, and it may also increase blood pressure and decrease circulation. The end result may be very serious health consequences for some ephedra users.
Today, ephedra is primarily used in the United States for two purposes. It is used as a weight-loss aid or bodybuilding product and as a nasal decongestant. As a relative of methamphetamine, ephedra can affect the body in many of the same ways. Ephedra can stimulate the nervous system, dilate bronchial tubes, elevate blood pressure, and increase heart rate. Manufacturers of weight-loss products containing ephedra claim that it suppresses the appetite and increases metabolism. Because ephedra can dilate bronchial tubes and decongest the nasal passages, it is also used an ingredient in some over-the-counter decongestants and cough and cold products.
As of January 2002, the maximum allowable dosage of ephedra is 8 mg per dose, or 32 mg per day. Most ephedra supplement products advise users to take two or three doses per day. What the product label says and what the actual content of the product is may be different. A research study published in 2000 tested the amount of ephedra alkaloids in dietary supplements and compared the results to the product label. The researchers found that more than half of the supplements did not list the ephedra alkaloid content or had a significant difference between the amounts listed on the label and the actual ephedra alkaloid content. The labels of most ephedra supplements state that the product is not intended for users less than 18 years old.

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