Use of ephedrine dates back more than 5,000 years. The first recorded history of its use comes from China, where it was used primarily to treat asthma and upper respiratory infections.
Ephedrine, also known as Ma Huang, is an herb commonly used in many modern-day weight-loss products. Its primary active ingredient is ephedra, which acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system. It can create feelings of alertness and reduced appetite, particularly when combined with caffeine. Ephedrine also relaxes bronchial muscles and dilates airways, and can cause sharp increases in both blood pressure and heart rate.
In particular, ephedrine helps to open up the adrenergic receptor sites in the heart and lungs. That in turn assists in the release of fatty acids from stored fat cells and a quicker transfer of fat into energy.
Ephedrine also helps to increase the contractile strength of muscle fibers. This allows athletes to work out harder with heavier weight.
In its pure form, ephedrine is a white powder. But itís typically sold in tablet or capsule form, particularly in many of the most popular weight-loss drugs on the market.
Under a 1994 U.S. federal law, dietary supplements made of herbs, vitamins or amino acids don't have to be tested for safety or effectiveness like prescription drugs. Companies may sell the products over-the-counter without FDA premarket approval, but they can't make misleading claims or promote them to treat a particular disease.
Because of an FDA rule that went into effect in 2004, ephedra and ephedrine based dietary supplements are no longer allowed to be sold in the United States. However, a federal appeals court overturned that ruling in April 2005, saying that the FDA has to prove that ephedra and ephedrine is dangerous. The FDA claimed that the burden of proof was on supplement companies to instead prove that the products were safe.