Are Ephedrine Free Supplements Safer?

Jennifer Voight

Since ephedrine usage is controversial and potentially dangerous, many ephedrine free weight loss supplements have become popular, promising similar weight loss results without the dangerous side effects. Yet many of these ephedrine free supplements have not been thoroughly researched. Until these supplements have been tested, users should use ephedrine free products are with caution. Ephedrine, also called ephedra or ma huang, is a substance derived from a plant grown in Asia. It became popular as a weight loss supplement and fat burner in the 1990s, but its use was banned or highly regulated in several countries due to potentially dangerous or lethal side effects.

The safety of ephedra free supplements depends on what ingredients they do include.
The safety of ephedra free supplements depends on what ingredients they do include.

Weight loss pills containing ephedrine became popular in the 1990s when research studies showed that it helped with weight loss. Although scientists were aware of the risk of serious side effects, such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart attacks, seizures, and death, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not regulate its use because ephedrine is classified as a dietary supplement, not a drug. Dietary supplements are considered foods and are not subject to the tougher regulations and testing process drugs are required to undergo before approval.

After the 2003 death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler that was linked to ephedrine, the FDA banned it in the U.S., although the ban has overturned and reinstated several times. Although ephedra is legal in many countries, its use is frequently government-regulated, leaving many dieters looking for a safer alternative. Many weight loss supplement companies that market products as safe and ephedra-free contain substances that may be as harmful as ephedrine or have not been proven effective as a weight loss aid.

One of the most common ingredients in ephedrine free supplements is bitter orange extract, or synephrine, a substance that works in a chemically similar way to ephedrine. Like ephedrine, synephrine acts as an appetite suppressant and stimulant, raising the heart rate and constricting the blood vessels. Its effectiveness as a weight loss aid has not been proven, and its chemical similarity to ephedrine raises questions as to whether it carries similar risks.

Weight loss pills containing ephedrine or synephrine frequently contain high amounts of added caffeine, giving the user a sense of increased energy and intensifying any stimulant effects. This may increase the incidence of heart abnormalities and risk of death. Side effects appear to be dose-related. For this reason, anyone, especially those with a heart condition, should discuss the safety and effectiveness of ephedrine free supplements with a health-care professional.

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