Ephedra and Liver Problems
Answered by: Susan Eagles
Question from: Debbie
Posted on: May 6, 1998

I have a question concerning Ephedra. I recently saw on the news that this herb can have adverse side affects. At the time of the report I did not know that Chinese Ephedra and Ma-Huang were the same. I do know that if they are taken properly and if a person has no health problems herbs can be taken safely, however, I had taken these herbs last summer to aid in weight loss, then in November during a pre-op exam, my liver enzymes came back elevated for no apparent reason. Six weeks later I had them retaken and the were still elevated but had come down some.

Now, in April, I had gallbladder surgery. My doctors assumed that my liver levels were up due to my gallbladder, however, after a post-op recheck of my blood my liver enzymes were elevated even higher then before.

Could this be an effect of the Ephedra that I had taken almost one year ago yet? If this herb did damage my liver in any way is there something that I can do to help correct the situation. Right now I am NOT covered under health insurance due to my situation with my liver enzymes and I am anxious to find any information possible to pass onto my doctor so I can once again (hopefully) regain normal liver enzymes and have my health insurance reinstated.

I have not found any studies that implicate ephedra with liver problems. The danger of ephedra is usually on the heart. Ephedrine decreases the size of the blood vessels, which can cause high blood pressure and heart problems and is therefore dangerous to anyone with these diseases. Contraindications include prostate and urination problems, again because of the decreased size of the blood vessels which would impair blood flow to, and therefore functioning of, the kidneys.

We offer the following information on liver repair to share with your doctor:

The liver does have a good capacity to heal and regenerate if the diet does not include substances that increase its workload. Foods that require excessive liver processing are fats, chemicals and alcohol. Zoltan Rona, in "Encyclopedia of Natural Healing" (Alive Books, phone 1-800-663-6531) suggests the following diet: Eliminate: beef, pork, margarine, shortening, white sugar, refined flour, fried foods, processed foods and junk food. Do eat the following: Nuts and seeds and cold pressed unrefined flax seed oil to provide essential fatty acids for liver function; fresh raw fruit and vegetables, whole grains beans, peas, potatoes, brown rice & tofu to provide protein; apples and rolled oats to stimulate bile secretion; turnips, onions & garlic have a cleansing effect on the liver. Supplement with spirulina to help detoxify, repair and build liver tissue.

Herbs: Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) is the best liver protector and detoxifier. For liver disorders, it is best taken in the form of silymarin extract capsules. For more information, see the book "Milk Thistle: The Liver Herb" by Christopher Hobbs (available at Richters) Dandelion leaf: a diuretic to help eliminate toxins. This herb provides potassium to the body rather than depleting it as do most diuretic drugs.

Stress aggravates liver function and it sounds as though you are under a great deal of stress worrying about your condition. Calming herbs which also support liver function are chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and Vervain (Verbena officinalis). Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata ) is a good sedative if you are having trouble getting to sleep. Your body needs lots of sleep to affect liver repair, so it would be helpful to arrange your activities to allow for this.

You can combine the dried herbs, Dandelion leaf, Chamomile and Vervain, and make a tea of one teaspoon of the mixed herb to a cup of boiling water, 3 times a day. Dried Passionflower herb can be made into a tea to be taken an hour before bedtime.

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