From the January 2004 Idaho Observer:
The FDA's latest herbal scapegoat: Ephedra
The many benefits of herbal ephedra
by Ingri Cassel
Ephedra grows throughout the western United States in arid desert grasslands and sagebrush country. When the Mormons first came out west, the Indians taught them how to make a tea out of this plant's twigs. It soon became known as Brigham tea or Mormon tea. Ephedra is classified as a Gymnosperm and is primitive in evolutionary terms much like horsetail. A variety of ephedra known as Ma Huang has been used for thousands of years in the Far East in the treatment of colds, especially ones with chills, aches and pains, and a chesty cough. Also used for bronchial asthma.
After making an extract of ephedra, the alkaloid ephedrine was discovered by Chinese scientists in 1924. Two years later, Merck pharmaceuticals produced a synthetic version of ephedrine that is still used in asthma medications today. Scientists also revealed that ephedrine is both a cardiac stimulant and central nervous system stimulant. So, in keeping with allopathic methods, chemicals were used to synthesize ephedrine resulting in the discovery of an entire new class of drugs -- amphetamines.
Amphetamine-containing inhalers were very popular in the mid 1900s for the relief of both nasal congestion and depression. Today such inhalers are strictly controlled.
Mark Pederson in his 1987 book, Nutritional Herbology, states:
Ephedrine hydrochloride and pseudoephedrine both work when taken orally and, unlike amphetamines, are available without a prescription. Pseudoephedrine tablets (Sudafed, Contac, Primatene, and Bronkaid) are presently over-the-counter remedies for the relief of nasal congestion.
Recent studies with both humans and laboratory animals have shown ephedrine to be beneficial in promoting weight loss. The main mechanism at work is its thermogenic ability to increase the metabolic rate of adipose tissue thereby enhancing the body's ability to burn fat. Its weight reducing effects are greatest in those who have a low basal metabolic rate. [Tenney, Louise. Today's Herbal Health, 5th edition]
Ephedra is a stiff shrub with slender, jointed branches that appears to have no leaves since the leaves are actually scales. The ephedra plant flowers in the spring, and after it flowers it can be described as looking like the trunk of an old tree with leafless stems or sticks growing upward.
It is interesting to note that ephedra only grows in highly mineralized soil. Approximately ten percent of the minerals absorbed by this plant are copper. Ephedra also contains fair amounts of such important minerals as zinc, magnesium, manganese, selenium, iron and potassium as well as the vitamins thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), vitamins A and C. According to Dr. John R. Christopher, the minerals absorbed by ephedra (as well as other plants) are live, highly vibrating minerals that can be assimilated into the body and used without side effects.
Ephedra has some of the same properties as adrenaline, although the native American variety (Ephedra gerardiana) contains less ephedrine than the Chinese variety, Ma Huang (Ephedra sinica). It is helpful when used to boost stamina, energy and circulation since ephedra acts directly on the muscle cells, stimulating the nervous system and supplying more oxygen to muscle tissue. Ephedra is well known as a bronchial dilator and decongestant, and has been used to relieve congestion, asthma and allergies.
Michael Moore tells us in his book, Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, that:
An acquaintance with a yearly scourge of longstanding pollen allergies began drinking the tea as a regular beverage to replace coffee and found that he had taken less than one tenth his usual amount of little yellow allergy pills for that season.
Ephedra is a powerful blood purifier, being a popular folk remedy for such conditions as arthritis, rheumatism, bursitis and other painful muscle and joint problems. Since ephedra is a vasoconstrictor, it has been used to stop internal bleeding.
The Pima Indians dried ephedra roots in the sun and then powdered them. They then sprinkled the powder on all kinds of sores -- including those caused by syphilis. The Navajos boiled the twigs with alum to produce a light tan dye color.
Ephedra can be used either as a tea or powdered and put into capsules. When prepared as a tea, old time herbalists and Mormon pioneers recommend that one use the grounds repeatedly -- adding a teaspoon of the freshly dried herb on top of the herbal grounds left from previous days. This method should be continued for at least four to six days since it takes several days of simmering this tea -- 15 to 20 minutes a day -- to sufficiently extract all the bio-available copper and other minerals. Naturally, more water and ephedra should be added to the tea each day.
My herbalist mentor and personal hero, Dr. John R. Christopher said, A good, clean bloodstream means a good, clean body. This body we live in is the temple of God, and the scriptures tell us that God will not dwell in an unclean tabernacle. By keeping the bowels and bloodstream clean, we are well on the way to a clean body. Such an 'instrument' can receive 'even hidden treasures of knowledge' by becoming a clear channel to a higher source of knowledge. This should be our goal.
The politics behind the FDA's recent banning of ephedra
by Jenny Thompson of the Health Sciences Institute
If you've never used a supplement that contains ephedra, you might not be concerned about the recent announcement that ephedra has been banned by the FDA. But this drastic measure goes way beyond the outlawing of just one herb. An Associated Press headline made that clear on the last day of 2003: Ephedra Ban Puts Industry On Notice - Move Shows Government Will Crack Down On Supplements.
If you value your freedom to make your own choices about what dietary supplements you take, brace yourself. We are now officially under fire
The Real Deal
Every day people die due to reckless driving. Should we ban the sale of cars? That would be absurd, of course, but that's exactly what's happening with ephedra. A handful of people have blatantly misused products that contain a hyped-up, synthetic version of the active ingredient in ephedra, and now ALL ephedra products will be banned, even though thousands of people use ephedra responsibly every day with no problems.
So exactly what are we losing?
In an email alert titled Jekyll and Hyde, Linda Page, N.D., Ph.D., gave us an insider's perspective on the value of ephedra. Dr. Page has been a Classical Herbalist for almost 30 years and has formulated over 250 effective whole herb combinations, many of them containing ephedra. Dr. Page wrote: I am continually distressed about ephedra's misuse and abuse, most importantly the isolated component of ephedra, ephedrine. If herbalists and formulators lose the ability to use ephedra, we are losing one of the best broncho-dilators from the plant kingdom that is extremely valuable when used for asthma and allergies. What then would people have to choose from to alleviate their symptoms? Drugs of course.
Ephedra also has thermogenic qualities so it is very effective for weight loss. Weight loss product manufacturers know this and, in most cases, the ephedrine is isolated and boosted so that the end result is people are taking a dangerously high amount.
Further, when ephedrine is isolated and boosted, it becomes an herbal 'drug.'
So what's the difference between ephedra and ephedrine? Dr. Page explains that, in a whole herb formulation containing ephedra, there may be up to 50 mg. of ephedra, contain ing only half a milligram of ephedrine. But the products that isolate ephedrine may deliver up to 20 mg. of ephedrine -- a full 40 times as much as ephedra itself.
In a Jiffy
If there ever were an indication that the drug companies control what agents we can and cannot acquire, the ephedra scandal is it, Allan Spreen, MD, observed. The simple proof of drug company influence is that far higher doses of the (concentrated) synthetic analog of ephedra herb are still available, and in far higher doses per pill than the herbal form. Ever heard of Sudafed? It stands for 'pseudoephedrine,' and is available in any drugstore, 7/11, or Jiffy Mart you choose to enter, with no limit on the dose you might want to take.
Dr. Spreen also makes the point that hundreds of people die every year due to complications associated with aspirin and acetaminophen. That's more people every year than have died in ephedra-related deaths total.
[Note: Not one of these deaths has been proven to be caused exclusively by ephedra intake, and a multitude of diet and sports products contain aspartame. See Government attack on ephedra cover for aspartame poisoning, The Idaho Observer, March 2003]
Last summer, Congress held an emotional, high-profile hearing about ephedra side effects. Have you ever heard of any such hearings about aspirin? No. And as long as giant drug companies continue their very aggressive and well funded lobbying efforts you never will.
One of the worst aspects of the campaign to ban ephedra is the way the dietary supplement industry has been portrayed as reckless. But just the opposite is true. In fact, supplement manufacturers have provided perfectly adequate self-regulation of their industry. For instance, without any laws being passed, and without any FDA directives, guidelines for ephedra dosage and label warnings were drafted in 1994 by the American Herbal Products Association, in collaboration with the National Nutritional Food Association. The draft was revised and adopted in 2000 by the Consumer Health Products Association.
What NO ONE can regulate is the way people use supplements. You simply can't protect customers who ignore warning labels or use products at dosages much higher than recommended.
T's and I's
The FDA will soon publish a final rule that will ban the sale of all ephedra products, making it impossible to attain them even with a prescription. The ban will take effect 60 days after publication, probably sometime in March. But supplement manufacturers may challenge the ban, leading to a showdown in court. When Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson made the announcement about the FDA decision, he told reporters, we crossed the t's and dotted the i's to make sure the case for banning ephedra will stand up in court.
Hopefully the t's and i's of this rule WILL be challenged and severely tested. Because, behind the familiar accusations about this dangerous herb, is the lesser-known truth about its altered forms and the way those forms have been seriously misused. So in spite of the fact that the ban sounds like it's signed, sealed and delivered, there may still be one more hurdle. If that hurdle is easily jumped, I think we can fully expect FDA officials to press even harder to increase the agency's regulatory powers over the supplement industry. And you can be sure that nothing would please the drug companies more.
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Ephedra has been used successfully for centuries to alleviate a variety of symptoms that include respiratory and cardiac distress and drowsiness. An extract of ephedra called selegeline has been demonstrated to boost the body's capacity to produce dopamine and has the ability to increase its ability to reverse chronic conditions such as Parkinson's disease and cancer. Jay Kimball of Discovery Experimental and Development, Inc., is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for allegedly mislabeling his 100 percent safe and phenomenally effective selegeline product Liquid Deprenyl Citrate. The ban on ephedra is a shining example of the merging of government and corporate interests: The pharmaceutical industry wants government to ban and demonize this safe and effective natural herbal remedy because, if people were allowed to understand its many benefits, it stands to lose $billions in drug sales.
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