The combination of ephedra and caffeine is safe and effective for weight loss, according to research published in the May 2002 issue of the International Journal of Obesity.
"Herbal ephedrine-caffeine supplements, when used as directed by healthy overweight men and women in combination with healthy diet and exercise habits, may be beneficial for weight reduction without significantly increased risk of adverse events," concluded the team of researchers led by Dr. Carol Boozer, director of the New York Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital and Columbia University, and Dr. Patricia Daly, a former professor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School in Boston.
This six-month, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical safety and efficacy trial involved 167 overweight but otherwise healthy individuals. Subjects were given either a placebo or a daily 90-mg dose of ephedrine alkaloids and 192-mg dose of caffeine (from kola nut), divided into three servings. This dose complies with the American Herbal Products Association's recommendation that daily intake not exceed 100 mg. Subjects were also advised to eat a healthy diet and exercise moderately.
The treated group experienced only mild side effects, including small increases in heart rate, varying blood pressure, dry mouth, heartburn and insomnia, but no serious adverse events. Subjects taking ephedra lost more weight, fat, and waist and hip circumference than the placebo group.
The Washington, D.C.-based Council for Responsible Nutrition said this study supports researchers' findings in the December 2000 Cantox Report in which ephedra was found to be safe at a total daily dose of 90 mg, divided into three doses.
"The publication of the Boozer study in a peer-reviewed journal further confirms the validity and importance of the Cantox Report," said John Hathcock, Ph.D., CRN's vice president of nutritional and regulatory science. Hathcock says the new study provides credible scientific evidence showing ephedra is safe and efficacious when used according to label instructions.
At the same time the Harvard-Columbia study was released, the National Football League announced it would begin randomly testing players for ephedrine and suspending for four games those who test positive. (In addition to aiding weight loss, ephedra also is used for enhancing performance.) The National Collegiate Athletic Association and the International Olympic Committee also ban the herb.
Although the Washington, D.C.-based Ephedra Education Council endorses ephedra for weight loss, it does not back the herb's use by athletes. "No athlete in a competitive environment should take any product for the sole purpose of attempting to temporarily overcome the individual's normal physical limitations," said Wes Seigner, general counsel for the EEC. "Anyone using dietary supplements, including athletes, must read, understand and follow the warnings contained on product labels."
AHPA's recommended labels warn that ephedra should not be taken by anyone younger than 18, pregnant or nursing and advise those who have heart disease, thyroid disease, diabetes or high blood pressure, among other conditions, to consult a doctor before use. The label also states that exceeding the recommended dose "will not improve results and may cause serious adverse health effects."
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 7/p. 5