|Image 1: Twinlabs' made a fortune on their line of ephedra containing fat burners.|
A 2012 look at diet, exercise and ephedrine
In a soon to be published paper, Nikki Sclotum and her colleagues from GlaxoSmithKline, the North Caroline State University and the Purdue University report on the results of an experimental comparison of ephedrine, diet and exercise based weightloss regimen in a mouse model of diet induced obesity (Slocum. 2012). The pre-fattened mice in the study were either ...
- given 18mg/kg of ephedrine, orally (human equivalent: 1.5mg/kg, or 117mg for an 80kg adult),
- forced to do steady-state-cardio at 10m/min on a treadill for 1h per day, or
- kept on a caloric deficit that was -26% below their maintenance food intake
|Figure 1: Changes in total body weight (g) and body composition (%) after 7 days (data adapted from Slocum. 2012)|
"So what? Is ephedrine totally useless, then?"
|Figure 2: Respiratory exchange ratio of the animals in the control, diet, exercise and ephedrine groups on day 7 of the experiment (adapted directly from Slocum. 2012)|
Ephedrine can increase the fat and thus decrease the carbohydrate oxidation. It cannot actively "burn" fat.
In other words, on a "calorie per calorie" base, the rodents on ephedrine used more fat than any of their peers. Due to the comparably small increase in UCP1 activity (~2x for ephedrine; ~4x for exercise),a marker of increased increased fatty acid oxidation, as well as the lower overall energy expenditure (compared to the exercise) and greater caloric intake (compared to the diet group), their metabolic advantage of being "fat adapted" did yet not translate into statistically significant decreases in body fat let alone weight - most of the fat that was liberated by the ephedrine induced norepinephrine rush was, if you will, simply restored (or replaced) to (or in) the adipose tissue from which it had been liberated.
Ephedrine can help, when it is combined with exercise and/or diet!
In view of the fact that neither exercise, nor diet had comparably significant influence on the respiratory exchange ratio, it does still stand to reason that the almost legendary "fat burning" effect of ephedra- or mua-huang-based fat-burners was achieved by combining the shift towards fat and away from carbohydrate oxidation with the exercise induced increase in energy expenditure in the presence of and otherwise constant or moderately decreased energy intake, which often was a direct result of the anorexic effects of the plant alkaloid.
Warning: The supplement industry is well aware of the legendary reputation of the "good old ECA stacks" and tries to fool customers by loading their mostly caffeine based "fat burners" with "ephedra extracts", "ephedra leaf extracts" or similar ingredients, which may come from plants that belong to the same family, but do not contain any of the active alkaloids!If we discard those appetite reducing effects, which are probably a side effect of greater fatty acids availability and reduced dependence on glucose as a main fuel source, this confirms the afore-made statement that ephedrine is more of an "energy substrate modulator" than a "fat burner" in the literal sense.
Ditch the ECA, embrace the DECaS stack
And while the addition of caffeine another "substrate modulator" amplified this effect, the effects of A, for aspirin, which was supposed to prolong the activity of E and C, ward off high blood pressure and other CVD related side effects and even prevent the habituation effect which come with the longterm use of every stimulant as a mere physiological result of the downregulation of (in this case) the beta-adrenergic receptors have never been scientifically validated (it is also interesting to note that, in the study at hand, the brown adipose tissue beta receptor expression was reduced, but the reduction did not reach statistical significance over this short time span).
Bottom line: With the ban of (real, see red box above) ephedra based "fat burners" you may thus have a small disadvantage compared to the "veterans from the good old days", the ban did yet not effect the fundamental rules of body recompositioning: Train hard, don't cut your calories too extreme and, by all means, get enough and restful sleep... and if that is somewhat of a relief, with the DECa (=Diet, Exercise, Sleep and Caffeine) stack, restful sleep becomes significantly easier ;-)