Just days before the New Year, many Californians made a mad dash to buy up Ephedra products before a new law went into effect there making them illegal. Here in Texas, the ban took affect last week and by the end of February, the law should be in affect nationwide.
Already, the ban is leaving many buyers searching for herbal options like guarana, bitter orange and green tea extract. So, the question now is if Ephedra isn't safe, what about those alternatives?
Russell Zukin, a pharmacist, warns you may just be trading one risk for another. "These are stimulant kind of medications which can increase blood pressure, decrease appetite and, in high enough doses, can cause death," he explains.
Zukin is part of a pharmaceutical team studying herbal remedies at Stanford University. He says people with high blood pressure or a thyroid condition should avoid Ephedra substitutes like green tea extract and bitter orange. And even so called "normal" people should be leery, because Ephedra substitutes may end up interfering with some prescription later, potentially causing a dangerous drug interaction. Especially bitter orange which falls in the same category as grapefruit.
"For instance, a medication almost everyone is on is Lipitor. It's a very common medication for cholesterol and that has an interaction with grapefruit. And bitter orange may have the same interaction as grapefruit and those kinds of side effects," Zukin adds.
Studies also show bitter orange inhibits the body's ability to metabolize the prescription blood pressure drug Plendil, to the point where too much of the drug gets into your body causing a potentially unhealthy drop in blood pressure. Researchers also say bitter orange can have a dangerous interaction with some over the counter products like cough medicine containing Dextro-mehthorphan.
Another Ephedra alternative is bladderwrack. A recent review of it by pharmacists shows that herb contains high levels of iodine which could cause or worsen thyroid disease.
The bottom line, be sure to check with your doctor before buying any weight loss supplement or herbal remedy.