Ask the Herbalist: Is ephedra (Ma Huang) safe and effective?

Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, June, 2003, by Andrew Gaeddert

The only true way to lose weight is to increase exercise and reduce calories. One of the hardest things about weight loss is the first two weeks, when it is difficult, without medical fasting, to actually see the weight come off. The best use of ephedra is for helping to reduce fat storage during the first few weeks by inducing thermogensis, i.e. burning fat. Green tea is probably the safest substitute for this application, although black tea is more popular in China. Some researchers have found high dosages of carnitine (i.e. 10grams per day) useful for the first few weeks in attempting to lose weight. I am also excited about 5HTP (5-hydroxytrytophan).

Researchers have found that when humans are fed a tryptophan-deficient diet, their appetite increases dramatically. A diet low in this amino acid leads to low serotonin levels. Without enough serotonin the brain thinks it is starving. With more serotonin, the "feel good" neurotransmitter in circulation, the appetite regulation center receives signals that enough has been consumed. Dieting or eating too many carbohydrates reduces serotonin levels.

Serotonin can be built up by eating adequate protein and also by supplementing with 5 HTP (5-hydroxytrytophan), a natural source of tryptophan. While it has been demonstrated in well designed trials to have an effect on weight loss, it is particularly noticeable clinically in helping clients to reduce carbohydrate cravings. General dosage is 50mg one half hour before meals or snacks. Higher dosages may be used as they are needed. Be sure to select products that have been naturally extracted from Griffonia simplicifolia. It is not recommended to take 5HTP with antidepressant medication without physician monitoring.

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