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Ephedra is the common name for three principal species: Ephedra sinica, Ephedra equisentina, and Ephedra intermedia. The active compounds in the plant's stem (about 1.32% by weight) are the phenylalanine-derived alkaloids ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, phenylpropanolamine (norephedrine), and cathine (norpseudoephedrine).

Alkaloid content and composition vary by species and growth conditions; total alkaloid content can vary from 0.5% to 2.3%. Ephedrine, the most potent alkaloid, can account for up to 90% of the total alkaloid content and pseudoephedrine can account for up to 27%. The pharmacologic activity of an ephedra sample depends on its alkaloid composition. North American ephedra species, such as E. nevadensis (known as Mormon tea), contain little or no ephedrine or other alkaloids.

The Chinese botanical ephedra, or ma-huang, was sold as a dietary supplement in the United States. It is a natural source of the alkaloids ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Some dietary supplement products used for weight loss and to enhance athletic performance contain these alkaloids.

Synthetic ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are found in over-the-counter decongestants and cold medicines and are used to treat asthma. Ephedrine is not approved in the United States as a drug for weight loss or to enhance athletic performance.

The use of ephedrine, ephedrine plus caffeine, or dietary supplements containing ephedra and botanicals with caffeine is associated with a modest but statistically significant increase in weight loss over a relatively short time (less than or equal to 6 months). No studies have assessed their long-term effects (greater than 6 months).

Vasopro Ephedrine HCL (hydrochloride) is synthetic and is pharmaceutical grade. Ephedrine HCL is an over the counter drug. It is used to preserve muscle tissue from breaking down.


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Last update on August 30, 2005
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