For more than 5,000 years, the Chinese have made extensive
use of ma huang, primarily for respiratory conditions.
In the United States,
ma huang and a variety of dietary supplements that contain
ephedra alkaloids are widely promoted and used as a means
of losing weight and increasing energy.
Alkaloids are chemical substances that contain nitrogen.
Some of the more familiar members of the alkaloid family include
caffeine, cocaine, morphine, and nicotine. As you’ve probably
already guessed, alkaloids may not be the safest of ingredients,
a suggestion investigated in a recent study in The New
England Journal of Medicine. The study revealed that cardiovascular
and central nervous system side-effects were frequently attributable
to use of dietary supplements containing ephedra alkaloids.
Hypertension was the single most frequent side-effect, followed
by heart palpitations; tachycardia (an abnormally fast heartbeat
- more than 100 beats per minute); stroke; and seizures.
The authors concluded that the use of substances that contain
ephedra alkaloids may pose a health risk to individuals, and
that a better understanding of the adverse effects of such
dietary supplements is needed. These recommendations echo
other recent advisements from the health care community on
the safety of dietary supplements. Talk to your health care
professional about the pros and cons of dietary supplements
before you begin taking any specific product.
For general information on herbal supplements, visit http://www.chiroweb.com/tyh/herbs.html.
Haller CA, Benowitz NL. Adverse cardiovascular and central
nervous system events associated with dietary supplements
containing ephedra alkaloids. The New England Journal of
Medicine 2000: Vol. 343, No. 25, pp 1833-1839.