Herbal ephedrine shows promise

Better Nutrition, August, 2002

As of 1999, about 12 million people were estimated to be supplementing their diets with synthetic forms of the stimulant ephedrine. Now a study completed in October 2001 and published in 2002 confirms that not just synthetic forms of the drug are successful at promoting weight loss. Researchers concluded that herbal forms of the drug are effective as well.

Published in the 2002 International Journal of Obesity, the study was conducted by a group of researchers from the New York Obesity Research Center, Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and Cigna Health Care in Los Angeles.

Researchers observed 167 men and women whose Body Mass Indexes ranged from 27.7 to 35.9. Eighty-four of the study participants were placed on a placebo, while the remaining 83 were given a supplement containing the botanicals ma huang and kola nut--natural sources of ephedrine. The study showed that the herbal supplement decreased body weight and increased HDL ("good") cholesterol levels.

Carol Boozer, DSc, one of the researchers, says she is cautiously optimistic about the study's findings. She expressed some concern that, upon hearing the news, people trying to lose weight might start taking herbal ephedrine indiscriminately.

People considering taking ephedrine should be aware that the researchers followed the study participants for six months in a controlled environment, and ephedrine won't work for everyone, she says.

But still, Boozer says, "We didn't find any adverse effects when it was taken by healthy individuals."

While there were some signs that the herbal ephedrine raised blood pressure and heart rate in some of the study participants, there were no serious side effects reported, she says. Boozer says the study was conducted on the condition that, regardless of the outcome, the results would be published.

"The herbal industry decided to be proactive on this," she says. "If the results had been negative, we didn't just want to sit on the data."

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