Ephedra Dangers Taught in Traditional Herbal Training
February 26, 2003
The Pulse of Oriental Medicine
Ephedra Dangers Taught in Traditional Herbal
The Chinese medicine herb, ephedra (ma huang), has been misused
by the supplement industry and misunderstood by both the press
and biomedical community. The February 17th death of Orioles pitcher
Steve Bechler brought national attention to both the risks of
inappropriate ephedra usage and the dangers of an under-regulated
The use of ephedra for energy, athletic performance, or weight
loss is not traditional. Chinese Medicine employs ephedra for
asthma, coughing, wheezing, and the common cold. Ephedra played
an essential part in the first systematic chinese herbal text,
"On Cold Damage," written around 200 A.D. by Zhang Zhong-Jing.
Ephedra's dangers are well-documented in the traditional Chinese
medical literature. According to Dan Bensky's "Chinese Herbal
Medicine: Materia Medica," a standard academic textbook,
ephedra may raise blood pressure or cause restlessness and tremors.
Like most Chinese herbs, ephedra is always prescribed within
an herbal formula. The combination of herbs typical to chinese
medicine allows gentler herbs to moderate harsher ones. Even so,
Bensky's "Formulas & Strategies," says that the
classic formula, "Ephedra Decoction" is contraindicated
for weak patients with copious urination, patients prone to bleeding,
and should be used with caution in cases of high blood pressure.
These texts are studied by all chinese herbal students. The herbal
combinations marketed by supplement companies are not traditional
Herbalists trained and licensed to prescribe chinese herbs such
as ephedra usually attend 3-4 years of Traditional Chinese medicine
college, graduate with a Masters degree, and pass minimum competency
exams for licensing. Profiles of colleges that teach Chinese medicine
are available from the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and
Oriental Medicine (http://www.ccaom.org/
Licensure that ensures competency in chinese herbs is regulated
nationally by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture
and Oriental Medicine (http://www.nccaom.org/
Each state has its own laws regarding the prescription of herbs.
Some individual states have their own competency tests with even
higher standards. For example, in California, both herbal and
acupuncture competency are tested before an acupuncture license
is awarded. See the California Acupuncture Board at http://www.acupuncture.ca.gov/index.html
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