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Information on Ephedra

Ephedra is a naturally occurring substance that comes from botanicals. The principal active ingredient ephedrine is an amphetamine-like compound that can powerfully stimulate the nervous system and heart. Ephedrine alkaloids are found naturally in a number of plants, including the ephedra species (also known by the traditional Chinese medicine name--ma huang or Chinese Ephedra, or epitonin). In recent years, ephedra products have been marketed as dietary supplements to promote weight loss, increase energy, and enhance athletic performance.

Ephedra grows throughout the western United States in arid desert grasslands and sagebrush country. When the Mormons first came out west, the Indians taught them how to make a tea out of this plant's "twigs." It soon became known as Brigham tea or Mormon tea. Ephedra is classified as a Gymnosperm and is primitive in evolutionary terms much like horsetail. A variety of ephedra known as Ma Huang has been used for thousands of years in the Far East in the treatment of colds, especially ones with chills, aches and pains, and a chesty cough. Also used for bronchial asthma.

After making an extract of ephedra, the alkaloid ephedrine was discovered by Chinese scientists in 1924. Two years later, Merck pharmaceuticals produced a synthetic version of ephedrine that is still used in asthma medications today. Scientists also revealed that ephedrine is both a cardiac stimulant and central nervous system stimulant. So, in keeping with allopathic methods, chemicals were used to synthesize ephedrine resulting in the discovery of an entire new class of drugs -- amphetamines.

Amphetamine-containing inhalers were very popular in the mid 1900s for the relief of both nasal congestion and depression. Today such inhalers are strictly controlled.

"Ephedrine hydrochloride and pseudoephedrine both work when taken orally and, unlike amphetamines, are available without a prescription. Pseudoephedrine tablets (Sudafed, Contac, Primatene, and Bronkaid) are presently over-the-counter remedies for the relief of nasal congestion."

Recent studies with both humans and laboratory animals have shown ephedrine such as Vasopro to be beneficial in promoting weight loss. The main mechanism at work is its thermogenic ability to increase the metabolic rate of adipose tissue thereby enhancing the body's ability to burn fat. Its weight reducing effects are greatest in those who have a low basal metabolic rate.

Ephedra is a stiff shrub with slender, jointed branches that appears to have no leaves since the leaves are actually "scales". The ephedra plant flowers in the spring, and after it flowers it can be described as looking like the trunk of an old tree with leafless stems or sticks growing upward.

It is interesting to note that ephedra only grows in highly mineralized soil. Approximately ten percent of the minerals absorbed by this plant are copper. Ephedra also contains fair amounts of such important minerals as zinc, magnesium, manganese, selenium, iron and potassium as well as the vitamins thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), vitamins A and C.

Ephedra has some of the same properties as adrenaline, although the native American variety (Ephedra gerardiana) contains less ephedrine than the Chinese variety, Ma Huang (Ephedra sinica). It is helpful when used to boost stamina, energy and circulation since ephedra acts directly on the muscle cells, stimulating the nervous system and supplying more oxygen to muscle tissue. Ephedra is well known as a bronchial dilator and decongestant, and has been used to relieve congestion, asthma and allergies.

Ephedra is a powerful blood purifier, being a popular folk remedy for such conditions as arthritis, rheumatism, bursitis and other painful muscle and joint problems. Since ephedra is a vasoconstrictor, it has been used to stop internal bleeding.

The Pima Indians dried ephedra roots in the sun and then powdered them. They then sprinkled the powder on all kinds of sores -- including those caused by syphilis. The Navajos boiled the twigs with alum to produce a light tan dye color.

Ephedra can be used either as a tea or powdered and put into capsules. When prepared as a tea, old time herbalists and Mormon pioneers recommend that one use the "grounds" repeatedly -- adding a teaspoon of the freshly dried herb on top of the herbal grounds left from previous days. This method should be continued for at least four to six days since it takes several days of simmering this tea -- 15 to 20 minutes a day -- to sufficiently extract all the bio-available copper and other minerals. Naturally, more water and ephedra should be added to the tea each day.


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