Article of the Month
Ephedra: The Real Truth
By Brad Schoenfeld, CSCS, CPT
Weight loss aids account for about a third of all supplement sales. Often called "fat burners" or "thermogenics," most of these products contain ephedra, an herb extracted from the Ma Huang plant, as their active ingredient. Ephedra has a long track-record in Chinese medicine, with usage dating back over 5000 years. Today, ephedra alkaloids-derivatives that have a similar chemical structure to ephedra-are found in a wide array of over-the-counter medications including those that treat allergies, colds and asthma.
Ephedrine, an alkaloid of ephedra, has been well-researched as an aid to reducing body fat. And, by all accounts, it has proven efficacious. In virtually every published study, weight loss has been greater when ephedra is combined with a low-calorie diet as opposed to diet alone.
Ephedrine functions much like amphetamines (and is actually the raw material utilized in underground labs to manufacture methamphetamine), having a dual-action on fat loss. First, it stimulates the central nervous system to promote the release of catecholamines (adrenaline and noradrenaline). These catecholamines then bind to your beta receptors-the "exit doors" that allow fat to be released from adipocytes-stimulating the break down of fat. Second, it functions as a "beta agonist," making your beta receptors more receptive to the catecholamines. In combination, this shifts your body into a fat burning mode, heightening thermogenesis.
Ephedrine also is a powerful appetite suppressant. By stimulating the ventromedial hypothalamus-the area of the brain linked to satiety-it causes a neurochemical cascade that ultimately reduces food cravings . Researchers estimate that 75 percent of ephedrine-induced weight loss is due to these anorectic effects .
The effects of ephedra are magnified when consumed with caffeine. These two compounds work synergistically, improving results twofold over that of when either is administered alone . The combination is so potent that it has proven to be more efficacious than prescription drugs such as dexflenfluoramine .
A popular strategy is to consume aspirin with ephedrine and caffeine (called the ECA stack). The theory behind the addition of aspirin is as follows: When taking a fat burning supplement, the body tends to increase production of certain prostaglandins that, among other things, lower body temperature. This is a classic feedback mechanism-an attempt by the body to maintain homeostasis. Hypothetically, aspirin can help to inhibit these prostaglandins by blocking the enzyme responsible for their production (i.e. cyclooxygenase). In practice, however, the benefits of aspirin are specific the obese, with little effect on those who have only a few pounds to lose .
Generally speaking, results are achieved with 200 milligrams of caffeine with 20 milligrams of ephedrine taken in three doses daily (for a total of 600 milligrams of caffeine and 60 milligrams of ephedrine). If you want to add aspirin to your stack, a baby aspirin (approximately 81 milligrams) will do just fine.
Since ephedrine is banned in many places, various supplement companies offer an herbal form of the ECA stack. These products combine ephedra with guarana (in place of caffeine) and white willow bark (in place of aspirin) and are comparable to the pharmaceutical version in promoting weight loss . To spice up the TK, they often contain additional ingredients such as hydroxycitric acid (HCA), chitosan, and other compounds; unfortunately, these ingredients increase cost without being more effective.
Now before you run out and purchase an ephedra-based supplement, there are several things you need to be aware of. First, ephedra only works in conjunction with caloric restriction; you must adhere to a proper diet to achieve effects. Despite the hype, you can't just pop one in your mouth, sit back and watch the fat melt away.
Also, ephedra can cause adverse side effects. As with amphetamines, they have a speed-like effect, producing a buzz that can last for hours. Accordingly, it is common to experience palpitations, insomnia, dry mouth, headaches, dizziness, tremors and sexual dysfunction when first taking the supplement. In some people these symptoms go away after several weeks; in others, they don't .
Other complications from ephedra can be more serious, even lethal. In rare cases, strokes, seizures and heart attacks have been reported . And because of its tendency to raise blood pressure and heart rate, ephedra is explicitly contraindicated for anyone with hypertension and/or existing cardiac anomalies.
While I cannot tell you whether or not to take a supplement containing ephedra, I will say that they are not necessary to achieve a lean physique. Be aware that there is a very real downside risk to these products and the risk might very well be greater than potential rewards. If you decide to go ahead and give it try, do so under a physician's supervision. He can at least make sure there are no contraindications and that it doesn't interfere with any medication you might be taking. And if you experience any adverse events, make sure to discontinue use immediately and see your physician.
Archive of Articles
You can increase the fullness of your upper arm by maintaining a neutral grip in your biceps exercises. This will help to bring out your brachialis muscle, which is located between your biceps and triceps. The hammer curl is a great move to work the brachialis.
Alcohol is almost twice as calorically dense as both protein and carbohydrates.