Ephedra is a medicinal plant native to Asia that has been traditionally used in China and India for thousands of years to treat a variety of health conditions such as colds, fever, headaches, coughing, and wheezing (1).
The main chemical compound found in ephedra that has been used and studied for its many different effects is ephedrine.
Ephedrine has gained a lot of popularity in the 1990's and early 2000's for its many potential benefits around energy, athleticism, metabolism, and even for the relief of nasal congestion but are these claims valid?
Today we're going to find out!
Ephedrine and weight loss
Ephedrine may benefit energy production and weight loss by enhancing thermogenesis and energy expenditure in humans (2)(3).
A study following 3 months of ephedrine supplementation among women found there was a significant body weight reduction after the 4 week and 12 week mark of treatment (4).
Ephedrine has been shown to increase the metabolic rate, improving the rate at which the muscles are able to burn calories and boosting fat burning processes in the body (5)(6).
Another study measuring the acute effects of ephedrine on 24 hour energy expenditure, found that energy expenditure aka the number of calories you burn, was 3.6% greater among those taking ephedrine compared to the placebo group (7).
As a result, studies have suggested that ephedrine may be a useful aid in the treatment of obesity due to its effects on metabolism (8)(9).
But wait, there's more.
Caffeine combined with ephedrine seems to provide additional ergogenic and metabolic benefits (10).
Ephedrine in combination with caffeine has been shown to be more effective at promoting weightloss than ephedrine alone (11).
Ephedrine can help to boost weight loss during shorter durations of time, however long term data on ephedrine and its effects are still missing and needed to confirm its efficacy (12).
Ephedrine and congestion
Another benefit that ephedrine can offer, that may come as a surprise, is for the temporary relief of shortness of breath, chest tightness, and nasal congestion by acting as a decongestant and bronchodilator.
Ephedrine is available in the form of liquid drops and works to ease a blocked nose and allow for more easeful breathing by reducing swelling and constriction of the blood vessels in the nasal passages and widening the lung airways (13).
It is advised to use only for a short period of time, and to not use for longer than a week at a time.
Ephedrine safety concerns
Though positive effects on metabolism, body weight, and nasal congestion have been observed among ephedrine consumers, the results are mixed in terms of safety as some studies have not noticed significant adverse reactions while others have indicated side effects and the potential for health issues (14)(15)(16).
It should be stated that there are possible safety concerns and side effects that have been associated with ephedrine and these may include anxiety, dizziness, dry mouth, headache, irritability, nausea, personality changes, insomnia, and other symptoms (17).
The FDA banned ephedrine in dietary supplements in the United States due to safety risks related to heart attacks, seizures, cerebrovascular accidents, and strokes (18)(19).
Currently, ephedrine is banned in many countries worldwide however it is available and legal for purchase in Canada.
As there are some safety concerns associated with ephedrine supplementation, it is highly advised to verify with your doctor before supplementing.