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Worth The Weight?

Studies Show Ephedra Potentially Harmful

Dec 4, 2002 |

Because the pressure to be thin and fit is highly prevalent at college campuses, the different manners in which people are choosing to lose the pounds are expanding. Most of the dangerous paths are widely known, such as anorexia and bulimia. But with just the right wording, one type of diet drug has managed to escape the bulk of the bad media attention.

This well-known path to weight loss is through weight loss supplements containing the old Chinese herb, ephedra. What sets these supplements apart from the rest is the fact that the drug is labeled "all natural." When compared to other drugs, a consumer might think that the supplement is safe to take because it is "all natural". Not everyone has or wants to take the time to research the diet drug or supplement they plan to take, which aids in the problem of ephedra. The root of the problem lies in the history of the ingredient.

According to the Web site,, ephedra and pseudoephedrine both come from the plant Ma Huang. Ephedra has been used by the Chinese to treat asthma and reduce upper respiratory infections for more than 5,000 years. The pseudoephedrine is a chemical isomer that is similar to ephedra and is used mainly as a decongestant. In addition to treating asthma, ephedra is used to lose weight due to its thermogenic effect.

"Ephedra has the ability to open up the adrenergic receptor switches.... thereby increasing the metabolic rate and calorie consumption," the Web site explains. The burning of fat and the increased metabolic rate leads to the notion of thermogenic effects. With all this in mind, the supplements have become commonplace in gyms across the nation.

"I work at the gym (Bally's), and everyone takes it, even the old people," Eddie Garcia, a senior electronic engineering major said.

A few workout supplements that are commonly used are Hydroxycut, Xenadrine, and Stackers I & II. More and more supplements debut on different fitness Web sites like or in fitness magazines like Men's Health and Self. These ads promise the promotion of muscle and the loss of fat, using pictures of people who have taken the drug. However, the ad doesn't include the most important information about the product.

The difference in using ephedra for asthma by the Chinese and the use for weight loss in the United States is the amount taken on a daily basis. Because of the dangerous effects the drug has on some users, the Food and Drug Administration had to get involved to regulate the amount that should be consumed in order to protect consumers.

Cristin Maradino explains the severity of the issue in her article, "Ephedra falls under FDA jurisdiction" in the September 1997 issue of Vegetarian Times.

"Although the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act of 1994 prohibits the FDA from regulating dietary supplements...if one poses a 'significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury' the FDA is within its authority to implement regulation," Maradino said.

After hearing how dangerous the drug is considered by the DSHE and the FDA, a person might wonder why the drug is still being used.

Depending on the person in question, the thought of the consequences might be blurred due to the fact they don't know anyone that has had problems with ephedra. But they exist.

Joshua Lintz, a junior public policy major, had problems when he took the supplement, Xenadrine, and regrets taking it in the first place.

"Today's society is so concerned with image that they close their ears to it (the dangers of the drug),"Lintz said.

Lintz hopes now, the dangers will be heard. He felt so strongly about the drug, he offered to share his story with the students of SMU.

Last July, Lintz was in track and preparing for cross-country when he wanted to shed 5 to 8 pounds. He had heard of the great results of Xenadrine and decided to take it for two months. He lost the pounds he wanted, but noticed he started getting flashes in temperature in addition to heart palpitations. Because he had already had his physical and was found to be in great health, he consulted the medical trainer and learned that it was due to the ephedra he was taking. It was then that he learned, personally, that it could happen to anyone.

Garcia had to see a cardiologist due to the use of the drug. Lintz and Garcia's symptoms coincided with the side effects listed on the FDA Web site. Although these are just two instances of the drug effecting people, there are many more.

On the FDA Web site,, a list is featured with different supplements that have dangerous side effects. Ephedra was found to have possible health hazards that range from high blood pressure, irregular heart beat, nerve damage, injury, insomnia, tremors, headaches, seizures, heart attack, stroke and death. These are not the only side effects, but these are some the FDA wanted to make known.

Even though the most favored path to weight loss, lower consumption of fat and carbs combined with a steady workout a couple of times a week, sounds like a broken record, it really does work. There are many other weight loss paths that work for some people and not for others, just make sure to do the research to be fully aware of any side effects.

With this in mind, SMU students will now be aware of how dangerous supplements containing ephedra can be. Because the drug has the same effects as caffeine, maybe the supplement will be substituted for a latte or two.

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