Feature Articles Food, Fitness, and Weight Control
Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D., Former
Nutritional Sciences Specialist,
College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia
Tammy Kliethermes, Missouri Department of Health, Dietetic Intern
Metabolife 356 and Metab-O-lite are two of the most popular
dietary supplements on the market today. They are taken by
people who want to lose weight, boost their metabolism and have
What are the ingredients?
According to product labels, both supplements contain Ma
Huang, a Chinese herb that contains ephedrine alkaloids, also
known as ephedra, plus similar amounts of vitamin E, magnesium,
zinc and chromium. Metabolife 356 contains both Ma Huang, or
ephedra, plus guarana, which is an herbal source of caffeine.
Metab-O-lite contains ephedra but no caffeine. Metab-O-lite Plus
contains both ephedra and caffeine.
Each Metabolife 356 tablet contains 12 milligrams of ephedrine alkaloids, plus 40 milligrams of caffeine. Each caplet of Metab-O-lite contains 10 milligrams of ephedra. Metab-O-lite Plus contains 10 milligrams of ephedra and 30 milligrams of caffeine per caplet. Both products also contain a "proprietary blend" of assorted herbal ingredients including: ginger root, lecithin, sarsparilla, goldenseal, damiana, gotu kola, nettle leaf, royal jelly, bovine complex, and bee pollen, but exact quantities of each are not listed.
How do these products work?
Ma Huang, ephedrine, or ephedra is a central nervous system stimulant that suppresses the appetite. People who take supplements containing ephedra report feeling "jittery," or like they have taken "speed," a street term for amphetamine. Caffeine is also a stimulant, acting to "boost energy" and extends the potency of ephedra. The minerals and other herbal ingredients are not proven effective for weight loss
Are there any risks or dangers with taking supplements containing ephedra?
Yes! There can be serious side effects, especially when ephedra is used in combination with caffeine. Over 800 injuries related to ephedra have been reported to the Food and Drug Administration, including more than 50 deaths. Adverse effects include: nervousness, dizziness, tremor, increased blood pressure or heart rate, headache, stomach upset, chest pain, heart attack, hepatitis, stroke, seizure, psychosis, and death.
Both Metabolife and Metab-O-lite have warning labels that advise consumers not to use the products during pregnancy or while nursing a baby. Consumers are also advised to consult with their physician before using the products if they have, or have a family history of: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart or thyroid disease, enlarged prostate, glaucoma, psychiatric illness, recurrent headaches, or depression. Also, consult with your physician if you are taking other prescription drugs, or intend on taking the product to reduce weight. A warning label on
Metabolife 356 specifically states that the product is not
for use by or sale to persons under 18.
Metabolife 356 advises not exceeding 8 tablets per day (96 milligrams ephedra alkaloids); Metabolite advises not exceeding 2 caplets in a 4 hour period and not exceeding 90 milligrams of ephedra alkaloids (8 caplets) in 24 hours. However, toxic effects of ephedra are not necessarily associated with massive doses.
The Food and Drug Administration has proposed limiting doses
to no more than 24 milligrams ephedra per day (8 milligrams per
dose), banning ephedra/caffeine combinations, and advises
against using ephedra supplements for more than 7 days at a
time; however, that proposal is in limbo, and the FDA has
limited authority. Health Canada has restricted sales, and
Save your money, your health, and possibly, your life!
Avoid using products containing ephedra, and especially avoid
combining ephedra with caffeine. Heed FDA warnings.
To lose weight, and have more energy, eat well, drink
plenty of water, get adequate rest, and balance your food intake
with physical activity. This is the only clinically proven
safe and effective way of losing and maintaining a healthy
Always talk to your doctor before beginning any weight loss or exercise program.
For more information:
Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009