Also known as Ephedra, ma huang is an herbal stimulant used for weight loss and in treating other conditions. The herbal remedy has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. The supplement, however, has been banned in many areas for various health complications that can arise from taking it.
Scientifically known as Ephedra sinica, ma huang has been proven to be effective in managing hay fever, asthma, and its related symptoms in clinical trials. It may also help in combating the symptoms of hypotension. These effects stem from the supplement's alkaloid ingredients, pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, which can stimulate the central nervous system. When administered to treat these conditions, ma huang is often flavored with honey.
Combined with caffeine, ma huang may help activate weight loss. These results have been proven during clinical trials in which the supplement was taken for a period of one to twelve months. When used as such, side effects may develop. These can include irritability, nervousness, and insomnia.
In China and other areas, many beverages are made with the herbal remedy. Some of these include Mormon tea and yellow river. Ma huang dietary supplements were prescribed by physicians in China for many years to treat everything from the common cold to coughs to headaches. When taken for these ailments, patients typically took the remedy in pill form or drank Ephedra tea.
American Mormons were introduced to Ephedra tea by Native Americans from Utah. The bitter tonic became a popular folk remedy and daily drink. Stems were also used as a tea and coffee substitute. At the same time, the herb was thought to be a cure for gonorrhea and syphilis, though its effectiveness against these conditions has not been proven.
Ma huang presents many safety risks that are considered significant. It can cause illness and injury, as well as death. Some potential side effects include cardiovascular problems such as stroke, hypertension or high blood pressure, arrhythmia, tachycardia, and heart attack. Because of these dangers, the Food and Drug Administration has deemed the herb unsafe for human use in the United States.
Herbalists who continue to use ma huang maintain that the stem of the herb is a safer alternative to the plant's alkaloid extracts. Rather than raising blood pressure, Ephedra stems have been shown to reduce it. Cardiovascular side effects, however, can still occur.
A cone-bearing shrub native to China, Ephedra can also be found in South America, the Mediterranean, and India. The herb can grow up to 12 to 20 inches (30 to 50 centimeters) in height. Ma huang achieves optimal growth in rocky deserts, sandy areas, and mountains; it prefers warm climates with little rainfall.