Is ephedrine safe for weight loss or is it safer to use ephedra diet pills? One of the often overlooked assumptions in coverage of ephedrine and ephedra is that these two substances are equally likely to cause side effects when used in weight loss products. The reality is that one of these formulations is much safer for a very key reason: dosage control. Perhaps the most important factor in preventing dangerous unwanted side effects from these supplements is being able to regulate safe doses. As we shall see, this is very difficult when taking one form of this popular fat burner.
First, some perspective: ephedra is an herbal compound extracted from the Ma Huang plant that grows in eastern Asia. It is a central nervous system stimulant, a bronchodilator, and a vasodilator that has a long history of being used in medicinal contexts. Hundreds of diet and weight loss supplements make use of ephedra to improve their fat burning capability. This is because ephedra is a highly effective metabolic booster that has been proven to greatly enhance weight loss results, amounting to an average of 26 pounds per year.
Is Ephedra Safe To Use?
All of this is possible because ephedra is made up of a series of sympathomimetic chemical alkaloids foremost among them being ephedrine. Over 80% of the alkaloid content of ephedra is ephedrine and the other alkaloids present go by the names pseudoephedrine, norephedrine, and cathine. Collectively, these are referred to as the “ephedra alkaloids”, but it is ephedrine which poses most of the health benefits and weight loss power of this herb. Studies have established that ephedrine is safest for diet when used in isolation and that combining this compound with the other ephedra alkaloids results in a higher frequency of side effects. This increased risk is believed to be modest when using herbal ephedra at a safe dose, but it can be exacerbated at higher dosages.
This is where the real problem with using ephedra vs. ephedrine becomes clear. Different iterations of the ephedra plant contain different quantities of ephedrine. These differences can even be seen in two shrubs of the same species growing next to each other under identical conditions: one plant may contain 0.4% alkaloid content by weight while a second might have 3% alkaloids. That then translates to the extracts found in diet pills and energy supplements meaning that two pills with the same ephedra dose might contain vastly different amounts of ephedrine. In some cases, this can mean too little ephedrine to produce desired weight loss results or it might mean a dangerous overdose.
A 2000 study published in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy surveyed different lots from 10 popular brands of ephedra supplements. The research team from the University of Arkansas looked at products such as Ripped Fuel, Xenadrine, and Metabolife with Ephedra – all of which are now banned by the FDA. They found that the ephedrine content in these diet pills ranged from 1.09 mg to 15.33 mg. per tablet. Presently, ephedrine HCL is considered safe when dispensed in capsules with 8 mg or less per pill. The same research team found that different bottles of the exact same brand of ephedra had variations in ephedrine content ranging as high as 260%. That means that one bottle might contain 5 mg of ephedrine alkaloids per table while another bottle of the same brand could contain as much as 13 mg per pill.
Why Is Ephedrine Safe Compared to Ephedra?
The problem comes down to the fact that ephedra supplements are standardized for the amount of ephedra extract they contain and not the amount of ephedrine. For example, another study found that of two brands that both advertised 150 mg of ephedra per pill, one contained 3.0 mg of pure ephedrine while the other one came with 14.2 mg ephedrine alkaloids! These huge differences can make it all too easy to take more ephedrine than you intend to and to run the risk of serious side effects. Another study from UCSF found that 31% of products they examined had understated the amount of ephedrine actually contained in the product.
What does all of this mean? When you take ephedra instead of ephedrine, it is much harder to accurately control your dosage of active ingredients. Comparatively, supplements containing synthesized ephedrine produced in a GMP facility are able to guarantee their dose size. This is true of products such as Kaizen Ephedrine and Synergenex Ephedrine which both contain a standardized dose of 8 g per pill. Ephedrine can be used in a safe manner to help you lose weight, but of most import is being able to control how much of this supplement you ingest at any given time. When it comes to deciding between ephedra vs. ephedrine, the safe choice to protect your health should be clear.
- Daly PA, et al. Ephedrine, caffeine and aspirin: safety and efficacy for treatment of human obesity. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. (1993)
- Astrup A, et al. Enhanced thermogenic responsiveness during chronic ephedrine treatment in man. Am J Clin Nutr. (1985)
- Buemann B, et al. The effect of ephedrine plus caffeine on plasma lipids and lipoproteins during a 4.2 MJ/day diet. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. (1994)