Ma Huang, the native-Chinese herb used in fat-burning supplements
and also known as Ephedra, has been used as a natural treatment for a variety of
illnesses spanning the past five thousand years. Early ailments treated by
products of the Ma Huang plant include allergies, asthma, and related wheezing,
coughing, fevers and colds. Although more prevalent in China, several species of
Ma Huang are also found in North America, particularly in Utah.
The Ma Huang plant is an evergreen shrub that grows to an average of 50 cm tall and is native to desert regions in the countries where it can be found. Characterized by its variety of colors, the shrub has tiny leaves that remain green only briefly and tough yet flexible stems. Dependant upon the particular species, Ma Huang shrubs can display colors including green, yellow, red, or brown-gray.
Ma Huang works as a stimulant. Biologically similar to methamphetamines, the substance derived from this plant has an effect similar to Epinephrine, only far stronger. A variety of stories concerning the use of Ma Huang exist in folklore, including its use by guards of Genghis Khan as a way to remain awake while on duty, and the consumption by early Mormons in Utah as a replacement for caffeine-loaded coffee and tea.
Because of the highly powerful stimulant reaction caused by derivatives of Ma Huang, herbal practitioners recommend use of the entire stem rather than extracts. Ephedrine extracted from Ma Huang is known to cause elevations to blood pressure and heart rate, while the effects of consumption of the entire stem are far milder. Beyond use as a stimulant, Ma Huang is also known for its mood elevating properties as well as its potential to speed weight loss by affecting the body’s metabolic rate through appetite suppression.
Ephedra is most popular is modern-day herbal medicine as a dietary supplement used by patients seeking mild to extreme weight loss. Most effective in individuals who already experience lower basal metabolic rates, Ephedra stimulates the body’s fat burning ability while taking away feelings of hunger. The resulting weight loss is often very welcome, but care should be taken to limit the rate of lost weight to a healthy level.
Although usage in moderation can have a positive impact on your health, Ma Huang is not without side effects. Because of its primary purpose as a stimulant, Ma Huang can cause sleeplessness and insomnia, although these symptoms will clear quickly after discontinuing use or adjusting dosage. Anyone suffering from problems related to blood pressure and heart disease should use with great caution, as Ma Huang can lead to dangerously high blood pressure and heart rates. Finally, because of its interaction with the body’s metabolic process, Ma Huang can lead to feelings of nervousness and anxiety and lead to dry mouth, headache and tremors.
The use of Ephedra or Ephedrine was banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States in 2004 due to an increase in adverse reactions and even several deaths reportedly caused by its ingestion. Following additional research into both the benefits and detriments of the use of Ma Huang, a Federal District Court overruled the ban in 2005, but set into place a provision that limits dosage to 10 mg or less. As with any drug or dietary supplement, use Ma Huang carefully and upon consultation with your doctor.
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