Drug Overview: Ephedra Side Effects and Claims

Ephedra, also called ma huang, is an Asiatic evergreen shrub with naturally occurring ephederine. This herb has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine to treat asthma, hay fever, and nasal and chest congestion. In the 1990s it was marketed as a dietary aid, sports enhancer, and energy booster. The ephedra claim is that it increases the metabolic rate to enhance weight loss and increases the contractile strength of muscle fibers. Ephedra has been an ingredient in many products manufactured by different companies.

Because ephedra was used as a dietary supplement and not a drug or food, the manufacturers of products containing ephedra didn’t have to get FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval before marketing their products, but the FDA had the power to remove ephedra from the market if ephedra was proven to be dangerous.

After reports of many ephedra side effects such as death, heart attacks, and strokes, the consumer advocacy organization Public Citizens Health Research Group called for a ban of ephedra in 2001, and the American Medical Association asked for a ban in October 2002. In February 2003 the FDA proposed a rule to put a black box warning label on ephedra products, the FDA’s most serious level of warning. While the rule on the ephedra warning was pending a new study revealed more evidence of ephedra side effects, and the FDA decided to ban the sale of ephedra except in traditional Chinese medicine and products already under FDA control. The ban took effect April 12, 2004.

The ban was challenged in Utah, and a federal district judge overturned the ban in a decision that applied only to the central district of Utah. Products containing ephedra continued to be manufactured there and sold online until the case was overturned on appeal in 2006.

Ephedra is now banned in the U.S. except for use in traditional Chinese medicine, but to be safe check the ingredients of any products you purchase online that might contain ephedra. Ephedra may also be listed as:

  • ma huang
  • sida cordifolia
  • pinellia
Ephedra Side Effects— Hypertension, Heart Attacks, Strokes

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) banned products containing the herb ephedra on April 12, 2004, after reports of many deaths and serious adverse reactions suffered by people who used the products for dietary aids, sports enhancers, and energy boosters. The Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, Washington, D.C., claims that 155 deaths have been linked to ephedra, including the death of 23-year-old Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Belcher in 2003.

A federal court in Utah has reversed the FDA’s ban, and the FDA has appealed. The reversal of the ban applies only in Utah, but companies manufacturing products in Utah are selling them online.

Ephedra raises blood pressure and constricts blood vessels. This produces a serious list of ephedra side effects. Symptoms that have been linked to ephedra include:

  • hypertension
  • heart palpitations
  • irregular heart rhythms
  • heart attacks
  • strokes
  • seizures
  • tremors
  • convulsions
  • paranoid psychosis
  • depression
  • coma
  • hepatitis
  • fever
  • insomnia
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • chest pain

If you have suffered injury after using a product containing ephedra, you may be entitled to collect damages.

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