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What Are The Ephedra Alkaloids?

what are ephedra alkaloidsThe ephedra sinica plant found in China has a great history of use in herbal remedies dating back thousands of years. The reason that this plant is so effective for treating a wide range of ailments and diseases has to do with certain organic chemicals found in its leaves and stems. These four phenylalanine-derived alkaloids are ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, norephedrine (phenylpropanolamine), and norpseudoephedrine (cathine). Collectively known as the ephedra alkaloids, these nitrogen-based compounds are now found in thousands of modern medicines and supplements for sale around the world. However, some of the alkaloids are more dangerous than others which is why taking herbal ephedra supplements may be more dangerous than using the compounds like ephedrine and pseudoephedrine in isolation. This article will look at the most prominent alkaloids found in the ephedra plant and tell you a little bit about the properties of each of these herbal substance.


Ephedrine is without any question the most famous of the ephedra alkaloids and it also happens to be the alkaloid found in the highest concentration within most species of ephedra. This alkaloid makes up almost 90% of the alkaloid content of real ephedra but it is curiously absent from many North American species of ephedra such as the Viridis or Nevadensis herbs. Chemically, it features the (R*,S*)-2-(methylamino)-1-phenylpropan-1-ol structure which is believed to make it the strongest of all ephedra alkaloids for the purpose of weight loss. Ephedrine alkaloids can stimulate beta receptors in the body in a manner identical to the natural adrenalin that is released in periods of high excitement. This leads to a number of fat-burning responses in which the body enters a state of greater energy consumption. Specifically, ephedrine causes higher levels of mental focus and physical energy, suppression of hunger signals, greater endurance and strength, and increased thermogenesis. These factors in combination contribute to average weight loss of 11.4 pounds over 6 months without exercise when used with caffeine.

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While ephedrine might be more well-known, pseudoephedrine actually has a greater prevalence in modern OTC drugs and other health products. Pseudoephedrine has a lot of the same properties as ephedrine, but it is weaker by a factor of about 5. That is why you will see products like Sudafed with as much as 120 mg of pseudoephedrine HCL, but the same dosage of ephedrine would be considered highly unsafe. The chemical structure of pseudoephedrine is (S,S)-2-methylamino-1-phenylpropan-1-ol and it is often combined with antihistamines, dextromethorphan, acetaminophen, and gauifenesin in nasal decongestants and sinus medications. Almost all of the pseudoephedrine on the market today is synthetic and not extracted from the ephedra plant for cost effectiveness reasons. While this alkaloid may have some implications for weight loss, it is nowhere near as strong as ephedrine and cannot produce the same level of effects or results.

Norephedrine – Phenylpropanolamine

ephedrine pseudoephedrine phenylpropanolaminePhenylpropanolamine is found in lower concentrations in the Chinese ephedra plant than its two formerly listed cousins, but it also has significant effects on the body. It can mimic the effects of the catecholamines in the body leading to increased blood pressure, more energy, a faster heart rate, sweating and a higher core body temperature, as well as several other central nervous system responses. Due to the high risk of side effects with Norephedrine, this compound is now banned in the USA for sale without a prescription. The FDA found that there was a great risk of stroke associated with PPA, making it possibly one of the most dangerous ephedra alkaloids. It is also a key ingredient in the production of methamphetamine (Crystal Meth) which has necessitated strict regulation of its use. Nowadays, the most common use of this compound is in veterinary applications as a drug for dogs.

Norpseudoephedrine – Cathine

Norpseudoephedrine or cathine is a stereoisomer of phenylpropanolamine which means it can affect receptors in the body in a very similar way but it features a distinct chemical structure. The Cathine alkaloid molecule is recognizable as (1S,2S)-2-amino-1-phenylpropan-1-ol and it is available in the USA only on a prescription basis. Just like all of the other ephedra alkaloids, it is an amphetamine with stimulant properties that can affect the secretions of norepinephrine and epinephrine in the blood. The secretions of these adrenergic hormones play a large part in regulating the body’s metabolism and can rapidly increase the rate at which calories and fat deposits are burned. Norpseudoephedrine is also known to be a dopamine releasing agent causing certain cells to secret more of this positive mood enhancing hormone.


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