NOTE: The use of ephedra is restricted in Canada. In the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the sale of natural health products that contain
ephedra (ephedrine alkaloids) because of concerns about its safety. The
product has been linked to
strokes, and some deaths.
What is ephedra?
Ephedra-also known as ma huang
and by its scientific name, Ephedra sinica-is an herbal
product that comes from an evergreen plant. The Chinese used these plants 5,000
years ago, possibly for the treatment of
asthma and hay fever. But they used plant preparations
unlike the modern ephedra supplements that are now banned.
Ephedra stimulates the nervous system and the heart.
Serious problems are linked with ephedra. There
have been some reports of heart attacks and deaths after its use.
Is ephedra safe?
Health Canada currently approves certain oral products containing low doses of ephedra for short-term use as nasal decongestants. But products that contain a combination of ephedra and a stimulant, such as caffeine, or other ingredients that might increase the effects of ephedra are not approved for use in Canada. Ephedra products that are marketed for weight loss, bodybuilding, or increased energy are also not allowed to be marketed in Canada.
For people who have heart disease, diabetes, or heart problems, using ephedra may make these conditions worse.
Always tell your doctor if you are using a natural health product or if you are thinking about combining a natural health product with your standard medical treatment. It may not be safe to stop your standard medical treatment and use only a natural health product.
Murray MT, Pizzorno JE (2013). Ephedra species. In JE Pizzorno, MT Murray, eds., Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th ed., pp. 731-734. St. Louis: Mosby.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine