The Adverse and Deadly Effects of Ephedra

We’ve highlighted the risk of various diet pills and drugs for the European Action on Drugs and now we’re going to go in depth on one of the more scarier diet drugs: Ephedra.

With the increasing obesity problem in the world many will turn to drastic measures when it comes to dieting.  Unfortunately, most of the time these measures are unsafe with short lasting effects. Diet pills may offer some benefits when it comes to weight loss; however, unless prescribed by a doctor and carefully regulated the  adverse side effects of diet pills often outweigh the benefits.

Ephedra is a Chinese herb that when combined with caffeine provides the user with weight loss. The United States FDA (Food and Drug Administration) discovered, “that supplements containing Ephedra show little evidence of effectiveness, except for short-term weight loss [i].” Studies have shown that Ephedra can help dieters lose up to 2 lbs a month.[ii] The pounds lost per month with Ephedra are quite minimal especially when Ephedra’s negative side effects are taken into consideration.

In the late 90’s, concerns over the serious side effects of Ephedra started to arise and the FDA found that, “the herbal substance raises blood pressure and stresses the circulatory system. These reactions have been linked to serious health problems, including heart ailments and strokes.[ii].”

Other known side effects of Ephedra are:

  • Abdominal Discomfort: nausea, vomiting, and irregular bowel movements
  • Psychological Effects: anxiety, insomnia, hallucinations, mania, depression, agitation, and delirium
  • Seizures
  • Heart Problems: Irregular heart rhythms, damage to the heart muscle, heart attack, and high blood pressure
  • Kidney Problems: kidney stones, pain when urinating, difficulty urinating
  • Death[iii]

In a study done by the New England Journal of Medicine it was discovered that, “Cardiovascular symptoms made up 47 percent of the adverse events that were… related to the use of supplements containing Ephedra alkaloids… Eighteen percent of related and possibly related adverse events involved the central nervous system. Strokes and seizures were the most frequent type of central nervous system event reported.[iv]” The study also discovered that Ephedra gave 13 users serious health complications and killed 10 other users.[iv]

The side effects of Ephedra seem to far outweigh the benefits especially since a diet that consists of healthy eating and exercise can provide you with better, longer lasting results.

One of the more alarming aspects of diet pill use is that the FDA categorizes diet pills under a different set of laws when it comes to regulating food and drugs. In fact the FDA is not responsible for a diet pills safety before it is sold to the public.  Only once the diet pill is marketed and sold to the public can the FDA take any action against a diet pill like Ephedra..[ii]

This means that tons of dieters trusted that the Ephedra was safe enough to be sold in stores and later, after use, the serious side effects were discovered. In fact, the company Metabolife, one of the best-selling Ephedra supplement brands, received over 14,000 complaints regarding adverse effects from their diet pill.[v]

On February 6, 2004 the United States FDA issued a ban on all products that contained Ephedra.[iii]Despite the ban and the obvious known health effects, Ephedra is still sold to consumers via the Internet.  “14% of individuals using non-prescription weight-loss products in the United States continued to take ephedra or ephedrine-containing products [iii].”

It is incredibly scary that many people still use diet pills that contain Ephedra despite the extremely serious side effects.  The risk that comes with diet pills is no secret, yet many dieters often ignore the side effects to achieve the desire effect of being slim and trim.

Unless you have a body mass index of over 30% and are told you are medically obese by a doctor, you should stay away from diet pills. Always discuss with a doctor before planning any new diet or about prescription weight loss drugs.

You should always try to diet in a healthy way that involves daily exercise and portion control of nutritious meals. Make sure to give yourself and your body time to adjust to your new lifestyle. The negative and possible deadly effects of Ephedra aren’t worth the risk. What every dieter needs to remember is that losing weight means a lifestyle change and not a quick, diet drug fix.


[ii] Boozer C, Daly P, Homel P, Solomon J, Blanchard D, Nasser J, Strauss R, Meredith T (2002). “Herbal ephedra/caffeine for weight loss: a 6-month randomized safety and efficacy trial”. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 26 (5): 593–604. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0802023. PMID 12032741.



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