Considering the constant barrage of negative press on Ephedrine, this headline probably will make some of you scoff while others will nod in agreement. The poster child for anti-DSHEA (Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act of 1994) rabble-rousers, Ephedrine has taken hit after hit in the media for being a potentially deadly dietary supplement.
If all this negative press is true then why are Ephedrine-based products still available on the market for everyone to purchase? Is the FDA asleep at the wheel or are the inmates of the supplement industry running the asylum? The truth is out there; you just have to know where to look for it.
The facts are that millions of doses of Ephedrine containing products are taken every year in the United States. Diet and Energy products are the fastest-growing segments of the supplement industry and there are no signs of a slow down ahead. The highly-publicized medical emergencies that have occurred to athletes and the general public due allegedly to Ephedrine products would lead most people to believe Ephedrine is very dangerous.
Some people might even think of injury due to Ephedrine consumption is commonplace. You would think that based upon the amount of press given to Ephedrine related injuries that there are literally thousands of severe and even fatal incidents every year. The fact is no one knows the real number of injuries that can be directly linked to Ephedrine consumption, however, let us do a bit of math and consider what we are really looking at with the safety of Ephedrine.
Aspirin Causes More Injuries Than Ephedrine
To date, there have never been more than 100 deaths potentially associated with Ephedrine use. We are talking about adding up all of the deaths allegedly linked to Ephedrine in the last 10 to 20 years. Let’s do a bit of math. Theoretically, if there were 10 deaths in a year, and say only 1 million doses of Ephedrine were taken in that year, then the rate of death per dose would be around 0.00001. While one-one hundred thousandths is a very small number, the fact is that the number is actually even smaller. There have never been 10 confirmed deaths linked to Ephedrine in any one year.
The number of Ephedrine doses taken per year is far greater than 1 million. For comparison, let’s look at some very common Over The Counter (OTC) drugs. Aspirin and other NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs) caused over 15,000 deaths in 2001 alone. Some experts suggest that the actual number of deaths from NSAIDs in one year exceeds the number of deaths from AIDS in this country. Surprised? Don’t be, there is more. Prescription related drug deaths far exceeded 100,000 in 2001. Some estimates have the numbers higher than 300,000.
Where is the press on these far more prevalent incidences of injury and death? Ephedrine must be special in some way to garner so much attention for doing so little. Follow the money trail; it often leads to the answers you seek, but more on that later. First, some facts of interest that might help shed light on this story.
In 1996 the FDA put forth a “Proposed Rule” in an effort to control the dose and the total amount of Ephedrine in products. The FDA uses Proposed Rules to start the process of making new legislation on an issue. In forming the language for the Proposed Rule on Ephedrine the FDA had gathered hundreds of “Adverse Event Reports” that were either unsubstantiated or minimally investigated. There was also a substantial amount of science available in 1996 and even more is available today.
The FDA is supposed to be a science-based organization, and they normally make recommendations and rules-based upon science. In the case of the 1996 Proposed Rule on Ephedrine, the FDA supported their case mostly with the unreliable Adverse Event Reports. The science showed that Ephedrine was clinically tested on both obese and healthy populations and overwhelmingly indicates that Ephedrine is safe when taken responsibly. The term “taken responsibly” can be applied to almost every product in your local pharmacy (drugs, vitamins, supplements, etc.).
Take too much of anything and it can be harmful, even water and toothpaste. One very interesting study pitted an Ephedrine containing a combination against the popular diet drug Redux. The results were that the Ephedrine group had few side effects, more weight loss, and better results than those on Redux. Keep this study in mind for later. The bottom line is that the scientific data did not support the assertions made by the FDA and did not support the Proposed Rule on Ephedrine.
As it turned out the dietary supplement industry rallied against the FDA and the Proposed Rule was never confirmed as a regulation. In fact, the GAO (General Accounting Office) of congress asked the FDA to justify its assertions in the Proposed Rule. The results of the audit also forced the FDA to abandon the Proposed Rule on Ephedrine.
Obesity Kills More Than 300,000 Americans Every Year
Having read the above you can see that all is not necessarily as it is portrayed in the media. There are far greater medical problems from such things as aspirin and other NSAIDS than from Ephedrine containing products, yet you never hear about these things on the news. The FDA attempted to regulate Ephedrine dose and support their case with case reports that did not show a causal link between the ingestion of Ephedrine and the medical event.
The scientific literature shows that Ephedrine is safe when consumed in appropriate amounts by both obese and healthy individuals. Some might argue that “appropriate amount” is the problem, but consider that taking a few to many aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen will do significant irreversible damage and you start to understand that it is not a safety issue, a governmental regulatory issue, or a dosing issue. Something else must be driving the anti-Ephedrine bandwagon.
All politics aside, lets look at the positive benefits of Ephedrine use as a weight loss tool. Most Ephedrine studies will say that when combined with caffeine in a 1 to 10 ratio, there is significant weight loss and specifically fat loss. Studies have focused around the use of 20mg Ephedrine or Ephedrine alkaloids (found in Ma Huang, Ephedra Sinica, Sida Cordifolia, and others) combined with 200mg of caffeine to be taken three times per day.
The effects of an Ephedrine/Caffeine combination are appetite suppression, metabolism increase, fat is mobilization, energy levels increase, muscle mass is preserved and you lose body fat. Along with these positive effects comes some potentially unwanted effects like jitters, edginess, dry mouth, heart palpitations, sweating, shortness of breath, sleeplessness, amongst others. The unwanted effects are short term because most people adapt within two to four weeks. Studies indicate that any unwanted effects are transient and eliminated in everyone by 4 weeks.
The most important effect may be the health benefits of losing body fat. With over 300,000 deaths per year associated with obesity and 1 in 3 people in the U.S. overweight, anything that will help people lose body fat is going to save lives and cut health care costs. Remember, Ephedrine has been studied on obese and healthy individuals worked very well. If there is a risk from Ephedrine, experts, media, and the government should be considering whether or not the small risk (as discussed above) is greater than the tremendous benefit to those that would decrease their risk of death due to obesity-related causes.
From the looks of things, the risk is definitely worth it for the health benefits. The healthy people that want to lose 10 to 15 pounds might also be benefiting far greater than anyone realizes. If someone can simply use an Ephedrine product rather than going under the knife for expensive cosmetic procedures like liposuction, and the inherent risks with surgery, then healthy people too have reason to look favorably upon Ephedrine. Let’s face facts, most “healthy people” that use Ephedrine products are doing so for vanity first, and health second. Regardless of whom or why someone uses Ephedrine products, the evidence is strong in its favor.
Ephedrine Works Better and Cost Less Than Drugs
The last question to answer is why Ephedrine, if so potentially beneficial, is maligned in the media. Some doctors, government officials, activists, and others would have everyone believe that taking an Ephedrine product is like putting a loaded gun to your head and pulling the trigger. Alas, such is nowhere near the case. When following the money, and there is A LOT of money in weight loss, one might consider the competition for Ephedrine.
Fat loss doctors, want to either sell you a drug or suck the fat out of you to make their money. Drug companies want to sell you a pill that will make you trim and beautiful to make their money. Politicians need a battle cry, and Ephedrine makes an easy target. Financial contributors like doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and other wells to do groups and individuals support politicians in exchange for political favors later. Ephedrine is inexpensive, effective, and not sold by multi-billion dollar companies.
Ephedrine for weight loss cannot be patented and priced high like most other drugs. Conspiracy theory? Not really, just an attempt to shed light on all of the information available.
If Ephedrine is so bad, then we might just have to consider removing a few other “dangerous” drugs from the market. We can start with aspirin, and other pain relievers and run down the isle to cold remedies. None of us would likely agree to have our nighttime cold remedy taken away during a bad cold. Consider all of the information. Think for yourself.
Form your own opinions by learning about Ephedrine, or at least don’t believe everything you hear on the news or in print media. If the data were truly there to support the removal of Ephedrine from the market, the FDA would have little trouble, as everyone saw last year with PPA (phenylpropanolamine).
While there are contraindications and people that should not take Ephedrine, as with almost any drug, the preponderance of evidence supports the fact that Ephedrine is a safe and effective weight loss tool.