Q.Many of the new "natural" diet pills have ephedrine as an ingredient. My husband has been told he should lose weight to lower his blood pressure, so he is taking a formula that contains ephedrine. Is this compound really safe?
A. Ephedrine is one of the main components of the Chinese herb known as ma huang.
Losing weight is one of the best ways to lower blood pressure without relying on medication, but the pills your husband is taking might make matters worse.
Either the herb ma huang (Ephedra sinica) or the compound ephedrine can now be found in many natural weight-loss or "energy" pills. Both can lead to nervousness or insomnia in some people. Ephedrine often raises blood pressure, especially at high doses, and might trigger irregular heart rhythms.
Although ma huang sometimes suppresses the appetite, we have not seen convincing evidence that it promotes weight loss over the long term. Because of its potential to cause side effects or interact with medications such as Nardil, Lanoxin or Cafergot, we don't recommend it as a diet pill.