Ma huang - Ephedra sinica (in the Ephedraceae or Ephedra family, Joint-fir)
Part used: Stems of branches. Note: The roots have an opposite effect of branch stems.
Taste/smell: Sweetish, astringent.
Tendencies: Warming, drying.
Dosage: Decoction: 1 tablespoon per cup of water; or 1:4 dry strength liquid extract: 10-60 drops 1-4 times per day.
Use: (a) Alpha and beta adrenergic agonist, (b) Releases norepinephrine from sympathetic neurons, (c) Diuretic, (d) Diaphoretic, (e) Antispasmodic, (f) Decongestant, (g) Bronchodilator, (h) Anti-inflammatory, (i) Antitussive.
Ma huang is an effective bronchodilator in mild to moderate asthma and hay fever. It is also used in other allergic situations, sinus congestion, flu, colds, pneumonia and bronchitis. The peak bronchodilation effect occurs one hour after ingestion and lasts about 5 hours.
The main active constituents are ephedrine, a central nervous system stimulant, and pseudoephedrine. Ephedrine has been shown to promote weight loss and increase the metabolic rate of adipose tissue. Furthermore, this effect has been shown to be enhanced when used with aspirin and methylxanthines, like caffeine and theophylline. These compounds potentiate the action of ephedrine and other ma huang compounds and may be hazardous.
Ma huang contains the alkaloids, ephedrine, norephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Pseudoephedrine exhibits bronchodilating activity similar to ephedrine, but has less side effects and greater anti-inflammatory effects. It also has a weaker cardiac effect but a greater diuretic effect and is a strong vasopressor that has been used during delivery to keep blood pressure from dropping too low.
Contraindications: Large doses or extensive use can cause heart palpitations, high blood pressure, raise blood sugar levels, cause nervousness, headache, insomnia, dizziness, skin flushing, tingling and vomiting. Ma huang is contraindicated in organic heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, enlarged prostate, Raynaud's disease, individuals taking MAO inhibitors and pregnancy. The alkaloids, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, are uterine stimulants in animals. It is contraindicated in anorexia due to appetite suppressive effects, insomnia due to adrenergic stimulant effects, suicidal tendencies due to anxiety caused by sympathomimetic activity of ephedrine, diabetes due to hyperglycemic activity of ephedrine, in hyperthyroidism due to the increased T3 to T4 ratio after four weeks of ephedrine use, prostatic enlargement with urinary retention due to alpha-adrenergic activity causing contraction of the bladder neck, stomach ulcers due to reduction of mucus production and nursing mothers. Teas may cause constipation. In large doses, it causes nervousness, insomnia, headaches, dizziness, palpitations, skin flushing, tingling and vomiting. When used with methylxanthines like theophylline or caffeine, it can increase thermogenesis and loss of body fat. When used with monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, it increases the release of noradrenaline by ephedrine, even two weeks after discontinuing monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Do not exceed recommended dosage.