Ma Huang
As the weight-loss craze overcomes the American population, so do the remedies. Among them is the dried ephedra stem known as Ma Huang. Found mostly in China, northwestern India, and Pakistan (White et al, 1997), this herb has long been used as a prescription drug, and it has been sold as an over-the-counter bronchodilator for nearly five decades now (Gurley et al, 1998).  Ma Huang has two main ingredients, each serving a slightly different purpose and raising different concerns.
Ephedrine is a nervous system stimulant found in the Ma Huang herb (White et al, 1997). This ephedrine is known to cause "vasoconstriction and cardiac stimulation," which in turn stimulates an "acute increases in blood pressure, heart rate, mydriasis, insomnia, vertigo, headache, and nervousness" (White et al, 1997). The second main ingredient in Ma Huang is pseudoephedrine, which acts to enhance bronchodilation (White et al, 1997). Combined, these two products present such dangers as "strokes, seizures, and heat attacks" (White et al, 1997). These life-threatening possibilities lurking behind ephedrine have prompted the Food and Drug Administration to issue an advisory warning against substances containing ephedrine. In light of this data, it is not surprising then when a marked increase in Ma Huang consumption was noted in the general population, a rise in adverse affects was also noted (Gurley et al, 1998). Powell and associates also remarked on the "toxicity of ephedrine", which can cause many drastically adverse effects, including death (1998). In summary, the side effects of this "all-natural" herb are wide ranged, anywhere from kidney stones (Powell, 1998) to acute hepatitis (Nadir et al, 1996), and even to other fatal complications such as strokes and death.
An interesting fact is that the second most prevalent ingredient in Metabolife is this deadly Ma Huang. 12 mg of this naturally-occurring ephedrine are present in a single caplet. Unlike the guarana, many studies have been done proving the dangers in Ma Huang. The American Journal of Gastroenterology published a study on a single woman who acquired acute hepatitis in conjunction with her usage of the Ma-Huang (Nadir, 1996). The conclusion of the study stated that "the best known adverse effects of ma-huang and ephedrine are palpitations, nervousness, headache, and insomnia" (Nadir, 1996). Liver damage can also be attributed to the use of Ma Huang, although such reports have not yet been identified.

 


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