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Supplements for Weight Loss

(continued)

Ephedra

Ephedra is also known as ma huang. It is an herb that contains the stimulants:

  • ephedrine
  • pseudoephedrine
  • phenylpropanolamine

The FDA banned supplements with ephedra after the herb was linked to serious side effects, including:

  • heart attack
  • arrhythmia
  • stroke
  • psychosis
  • seizures
  • death

The FDA's ban does not apply to traditional Chinese herbal remedies or to products such as herbal teas.

According to the FDA, there is little evidence for the herb's effectiveness except for short-term weight loss. The agency says the health risks outweigh any benefits.

The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database says ephedra is "likely unsafe."

Bitter Orange

The bitter orange tree is native to Africa and tropical Asia. It's also grown in the Mediterranean, California, and Florida.

Bitter orange contains synephrine, a stimulant related to ephedrine. It supposedly works by raising the number of calories burned.

After the FDA banned weight loss products containing ephedra, many makers switched to bitter orange. But it’s unclear if bitter orange is safer.

The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database says that bitter orange is "possibly unsafe" and there is insufficient evidence to rate it for weight loss.

Some studies have shown bitter orange supplements can increase blood pressure and heart rate. There have been reports that bitter orange may have had dangerous side effects in people who took bitter orange alone or in combination with other stimulants such as caffeine. These effects include:

  • stroke
  • irregular heartbeat
  • heart attack
  • death

According to the FDA, bitter orange may not be safe to use as a dietary supplement. You should especially avoid taking bitter orange supplements if you have:

  • a heart condition
  • high blood pressure

You should also avoid bitter orange supplements if you are taking caffeine, medications (such as MAO inhibitors), or herbs or other supplements that speed up the heart rate.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on March 20, 2014
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