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Home » OSL Blog » Ephedra vs. Ephedrine: Which Is Best for Fat Loss?

Ephedra vs. Ephedrine: Which Is Best for Fat Loss?

June 7, 2019

Losing weight is never easy. Even if you’re already fit, you might still have trouble getting rid of stubborn fat. Sometimes, diet and training are not enough to make your abs pop. That’s where fat burners come in handy. But which ones really work?

The ephedra vs. ephedrine debate has been around for ages. After all, these are some of the most popular fat burners on the market. Both products aid in weight loss, but at what cost? Nausea, headaches, arrhythmia, gentleness, and even strokes are just a few of their side effects.

Knowing What’s in the Bottle: The Truth about Ephedra

Let’s start with ephedra, a popular Chinese plant used in fat burners. Also known as ma-huang, it has been used as a natural remedy for more than 2,000 years. In ancient times, it was considered a powerful cure for asthma, wheezing, cold, and respiratory disorders. Many of its active compounds, such as ephedrine and norephedrine, are now being used in OTC supplements for weight loss and allergies.

Ephedra, the famous Chinese plant used nowadays in supplements.

Back in the 90s, ephedra become popular among athletes and bodybuilders. This plant and its alkaloids have been shown to enhance exercise performance, increase metabolic rate, and raise energy levels. It’s also a potent fat burner and appetite suppressant. Its potential benefits are largely due to ephedrine, a molecule that stimulates thermogenesis and regulates energy balance.

American Journal of Clincal Nutrition Study

A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirms the fat burning properties of ephedrine. Overweight subjects who took this natural compound experienced significant increases in oxygen consumption and thyroid hormone levels. Their body weight decreased significance within four to 12 weeks of treatment.

diet pills
FDA banned the use of ephedra in diet pills.

To keep things simple, ephedrine is responsible for ephedra’s fat burning power. Most weight loss products were made with the dried leaves and stems of the ephedra plant. The FDA banned ephedrine- and ephedra-containing supplements in 2004, but some diet pills still contain low doses of ephedra-type alkaloids.

This plant has similar effects to amphetamine. According to supplement manufacturers, it stimulates the central nervous system, leading to greater endurance and strength, improved athletic performance, and reduced fatigue. It also increases your energy expenditure, helping you burn more calories throughout the day. That’s why it was widely used by athletes and dieters alike.

1. How Does Ephedra Work?

Ephedrine, the primary compound in this herb, exhibits thermogenic properties. After ingestion, it raises the body’s core temperature, which in turn, helps increase your energy expenditure. It’s particularly effective when combined with caffeine.

What Science Says

Clinical evidence confirms the link between ephedra and fat loss. According to a 2017 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, this plant may help prevent obesity and aid in the management of metabolic disorders. Obese rats treated with ephedra while on a high-fat diet lost weight and fat mass. Ephedra not only suppresses appetite but also positively alters the gut flora and reduces inflammation.

Male exercising
Ephedra aids in fat loss and obesity prevention.

Another study, which was featured in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine, indicates that ephedra may lower blood sugar levels and promote weight loss by regulating adiponectin, leptin, and other hormones that affect body weight. Adiponectin, for instance, supports glucose and lipid metabolism, influencing insulin response. Low levels of this hormone increase the risk of obesity and heart attacks.

blood sugar levels
The plant aids in balancing the blood sugar level.

This herb may help prevent blood sugar spikes and improve glycemic control. At the same time, it balances the hormones that regulate appetite. That’s why ephedra supplements curb hunger and cravings, making it easier to lose weight.

Most studies, though, didn’t last longer than six months. In general, it takes at least one year to establish the effectiveness of a weight loss product. Additionally, research indicates that ephedra only produces modest short-term weight loss but carries serious side effects.

banned supplements
The banned supplement can still be found in black markets.

Currently, this substance is banned by the FDA, The World Anti-Doping Agency, the International Olympic Committee and other organizations. However, it’s still available on the black market and outside the U.S. In a 2006 survey, nearly half of the hockey players admitted using ephedra supplements to perform better and gain a competitive edge.

2. Ephedra and Athletic Performance

Think of ephedra as caffeine’s stronger brother. It skyrockets your energy, boosts physical performance, and kick-starts your metabolism. Unlike caffeine, it’s effective even for those who don’t exercise. This makes it appealing for the general population, not just for athletes.

Few studies, though, confirm its ability to improve sports performance. Ephedrine, the active substance in ephedra, has been shown to increase fat oxidation and oxygen consumption. However, clinical trials show that it has little or no effects on strength, endurance, and overall fitness.

A study published in Medicine and Science in Sports assessed its impact on muscle function, strength, power, speed, and other performance indicators. Male subjects took 24 grams of ephedrine but didn’t experience any significant improvements.

In another study, cyclists who used pseudoephedrine reported no changes in energy levels, time to exhaustion, or perceived exertion.

Combining Caffeine & Ephedrine

Combining caffeine with ephedrine seems to be more effective. In clinical trials, this combo increased cycling time to exhaustion by 38% to 64% compared to a placebo.

Ephedra has almost no effects on athletic performance.

Without a doubt, ephedra and its alkaloids aid in weight loss. However, it has little or no effects on athletic performance. It does increase your energy, but you can just as well drink a cup of coffee or use pre-workout formulas. These products are a lot safer and have none of the side effects of ephedra and ephedrine.

The Muscle & Tone Stack from Old School Labs is a great choice for gym goers and pro athletes alike. It includes a potent fat burner, a two-stage pre-workout formula, and quality protein powder inspired by the Golden Era.

With this combo, your strength and energy will go through the roof. You’ll not only lift heavier but also last longer and recover faster from training.

4. Ephedra Side Effects

When it comes to ephedra vs. ephedrine in terms of safety, the latter seems to carry a lower risk of side effects. Both substances may cause palpitations as well as digestive and psychiatric symptoms when combined with caffeine.

A 2000 review published in the New England Journal of Medicine has documented several deaths and adverse reactions related to the use of ephedra alkaloids, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart palpitations
  • Fatal arrhythmia
  • Seizures
  • Hemorrhagic and ischemic stroke
  • Ventricular fibrillation
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Permanent disability
heart attack
Heart attacks are on of the main potential symptoms of ephedra.

Cardiovascular symptoms occurred in nearly half of all cases, with hypertension being the most common side effect. It’s important to note, though, that most subjects used ephedra in combination with caffeine, which increases the risk of adverse reactions.

Harvard Medical School Study

According to Harvard Medical School, ephedra has over 800 potential side effects, from heart attacks to sudden death.

The same source states 62% of herb-related poisoning cases are due to the use of ephedra supplements. These products may cause mood swings, irritability, anxiety, myocardial infarctions, brain hemorrhage, cardiac arrest, and more.

National Institutes of Health Study

As the National Institutes of Health points out, using ephedra along with other supplements or drugs can enhance its side effects. This product alone may cause dizziness, psychosis, tremors, difficulty sleeping, headaches, and cardiac events. The risks are even greater for those with existing cardiovascular problems, glaucoma, enlarged prostate, kidney disease, diabetes, or hypertension.

Headaches are one of the side effects of combining ephedra with other supplements.

This herb increases your heart rate and blood pressure, worsens anxiety symptoms, and stimulates the thyroid. Due to its hypertensive properties, it may also raise intraocular pressure and make glaucoma worse. If you’re prone to seizures, ephedra can exacerbate your condition.

How Ephedra & Ephedrine Affect You

Beware of potential drug interactions. Ephedra and ephedrine supplements may interfere with:

  • Methylxanthines, such as caffeine and aminophylline
  • Stimulants
  • Asthma medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-diabetes drugs
  • Anticonvulsants

Albuterol and other asthma medications, for example, stimulate your heart; ephedra has the same effect. Combining the two will put stress on the heart and may lead to cardiac events.

How Does Ephedrine Work?

As we’ve mentioned earlier, ephedrine is a chemical component (alkaloid) of the ephedra plant. It’s medically used as a bronchodilator and hypertensive agent in operating rooms as well as for treating certain conditions like asthma and narcolepsy. Users can either inject it or take it by mouth.

ephedrine shot
Ephedrine is also used as for asthma and supplement for athletes and dieters.

Doses of less than 20 milligrams per day are generally considered safe. Most dieters and athletes take 50 to 150 milligrams daily, split into several doses. Its half-life is 3 to 6 hours, which requires up to 3 doses per day.

The FDA Banning

Like ephedra, this substance was banned by the FDA. This is partly due to its potential side effects and partly due to its use in methamphetamine synthesis. Weight loss supplements containing ephedrine are no longer available in the United States and most European countries.

What Studies Say

Ephedrine works by increasing thermogenesis in the skeletal muscle and brown adipose tissue, which may lead to fat loss. The research is conflicting, though. According to a 2013 study published in Diabetologia, these effects only occur in lean individuals.

Other studies indicate that ephedrine does aid in weight loss, but only when combined with caffeine or used in high doses. In either case, its side effects are greater too.

In a clinical trial, athletes who took this substance alone or with caffeine lifted heavier weights and performed a higher number of reps during strength training. These findings indicate that ephedrine may increase muscle strength and endurance.

Ephedrine combined with caffeine enhanced the performance of athletes.

Researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center assessed the effects of a supplement containing ephedrine and caffeine. This combo produced greater fat loss than a placebo — without significant adverse effects. Its potential benefits seem to outweigh the risks.

Not everyone agrees with these claims, though.

1. The Potential Dangers of Ephedrine

This compound interferes with the body’s adrenergic receptors, which in turn, helps stimulate thermogenesis. The downside is that it may also increase the risk of cardiovascular problems, such as tachycardia, palpitations, and cardiac arrest. The use of high doses (100 to 150 milligrams) may result in blood pressure, restlessness, arrhythmia, and other side effects.

cardiovascular problems
Ephedrine is linked to increasing the risks of cardiovascular problems.

A meta-analysis of 52 clinical trials reported no significant adverse reactions to ephedrine alone or in combination with caffeine. However, researchers point out that ephedra — not ephedrine — may double or triple the risk of psychiatric symptoms, mood changes, palpitations, and vomiting.

Other studies have linked these compounds to stroke, seizures, myocardial infarction, and even death, but none of them established a direct causal relationship between ephedrine and these adverse events. Its potential toxicity depends on the dosage, history of use, individual sensitivity, drug interactions, product quality, and other factors.

Is Ephedrine safe?

Considering these facts, it’s hard to tell whether or not ephedrine is safe. One thing is for sure: this substance does increase blood pressure.

blood pressure
The substance is used to prevent hypotension.

As we’ve mentioned above, it’s medically used to prevent hypotension before surgery. Exercise causes a temporary increase in blood pressure too, which means that if you’re working out and using high doses of ephedrine, you may experience cardiovascular problems in the long run.

This substance is stronger than caffeine. Therefore, those with sensitivity to caffeine are more likely to experience jitters, anxiety, irregular heart rate, and other side effects.

Ephedra vs. Ephedrine: The Verdict

Now that you know more about ephedra vs. ephedrine, you may wonder which one is safer and more effective. Both substances cause modest weight loss in the short-term. Their effects on athletic performance are negligible.


In terms of safety, ephedrine seems to be a better choice. Heart attacks, strokes, deaths, and other extreme side effects are more likely to occur in those using ephedra. Both supplements should be used with caution.

Note that ephedrine is widely prescribed to patients receiving anesthesia. Additionally, it’s commonly used in the treatment of asthma. Ephedra, on the other hand, has no medical uses.

Both products should be tried carefully and gradually.

If you decide to try to these products, start with a low dose to see how your body reacts. Increase the dosage gradually and watch out for any side effects.

But ephedra and ephedrine are not your only options…

Safer Alternatives to Ephedra and Ephedrine Supplements

Green tea extract, raspberry ketones, caffeine, and forskolin are all better alternatives to ephedra alkaloids. These natural ingredients have stood the test of time and have none of the side effects associated with ephedra supplements. They not only burn fat but also support overall health and well-being.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the safest, most effective fat burners out there!

1. Caffeine

Your morning cup of joe does a lot more than just wake you up. It also kick-starts your metabolism and fuels your workouts, leading to fat loss and enhanced sports performance. These potential benefits are due to its high caffeine content.

When combined with exercise, caffeine increases fat burning and reduces the size of your fat cells. It also increases alertness and mental focus, delays fatigue, and keeps your brain sharp until late in life.

Combined with exercise, caffeine increases the fat burning process.

This compound stimulates the nervous system, increasing lipolysis aka fat breakdown. From this perspective, it works similarly to ephedra and ephedrine, but without the side effects.

2. Green Tea Extract

Green tea has long been known as a natural fat burner. Rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients, it scavenges oxidative stress and slows down aging. At the same time, it improves your body’s ability to burn fat and boosts your metabolism.

Green tea
Green tea boosts the metabolism and relieves stress.

Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a potent antioxidant in green tea, suppresses an enzyme that breaks down norepinephrine. This causes norepinephrine levels to go up, which in turn, increases fat oxidation.

Like caffeine, green tea boosts your energy and mental focus. It also increases fat burning during AND after exercise. In a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, male subjects who took green tea supplements before training burned 17% more fat than the placebo group.

3. Raspberry Ketones

Another alternative to ephedra is raspberry ketone. This compound occurs naturally in raspberries, cranberries, blackberries, and other fruits, but it’s also available in supplement form.

Raspberry ketones support fat loss.

According to a 2010 clinical trial published in Planta Medica, raspberry ketones increase adiponectin levels and stimulate fat breakdown. They not only prevent weight gain but also reduce fat mass and improve lipid metabolism.

Let us tell you a secret…

Vintage Burn™ from Old School Labs contains these potent fat burning ingredients and many others.

It features a unique mix of caffeine, green tea extract, green coffee bean extract, raspberry ketones, garcinia cambogia, forskolin, and other natural compounds with metabolism-boosting effects. When combined with resistance training, it maximizes fat burning and preserves lean mass.

Maximize Your Fat Burning Potential

Now you should have a better understanding of the best fat burners and their mechanism of action. Weigh the pros and cons of ephedra vs. ephedrine and decide whether it’s the risk. Or you can stay on the safe side and use clinically proven fat burning ingredients that have little or no side effects.

fat loss
Fat burners support speed up fat loss when combined with a healthy diet.

Your diet accounts for more than 80% of your results. Fat burners can help, but they won’t offset the damage caused by bad eating.

Not sure where to start? Try an old school bodybuilding diet to get leaner and make epic gains. Follow the five rules of workout nutrition to maximize hypertrophy and keep your metabolism up.

What’s your take on fat burners? What products have you tried so far? Let us know in the comments below!

Disclaimer: None of the individuals and/or companies mentioned necessarily endorse Old School Labs or COSIDLA Inc. products or the contents of this article. Any programs provided for illustration purposes only. Always consult with your personal trainer, nutritionist and physician before changing or starting any new exercise, nutrition, or supplementation program.
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