- Ephedra is a low evergreen shrub with small scaly leaves. It has a long history of medicinal use in China and India to treat colds, fever, headaches, coughing, wheezing, and other conditions.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedrine alkaloids (stimulant compounds found in Ephedra sinica and some other plants) in the United States in 2004. Prior to the ban, ephedra was an ingredient in some dietary supplements promoted for weight loss, increased energy, and enhanced athletic performance.
- Prior to the ban, research showed that dietary supplements containing ephedra/ephedrine (usually in combination with caffeine) had modest short-term effects on weight loss. However, this benefit was considered insufficient to outweigh the serious risks of these supplements. No studies had assessed long-term effects on weight. The evidence regarding athletic performance was insufficient to allow any conclusions to be reached.
- The FDA banned dietary supplements containing ephedrine alkaloids because of their serious safety risks. The supplements were associated with cases of heart attack, seizure, stroke, and sudden death. People with a history of cardiovascular disease, those taking high doses of ephedra, and those taking it in combination with other stimulants such as caffeine would be expected to be at increased risk, but some of the severe events occurred in people with no preexisting medical problems, people taking relatively low doses of ephedra, or people taking ephedra alone.
- Taking ephedra may also cause anxiety, dizziness, dry mouth, headache, irritability, nausea, personality changes, insomnia, and other symptoms.
- Because of ephedra’s serious risks, it is considered unsafe for use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
- Talk to your health care providers about any complementary health approaches before you use. It may be contraindicated with any medications you are currently taking.