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the ephedrine / caffeine stack.

In so far as "fat loss supplements", it's safe to say that there is plenty of snake oil out there. Infomercials peddling bottled tripe. Spandex clad quacks screaming at the top of their lungs about their secret weapon. Celebrities offering to share with you their magic potion for only 19.95. Because of these things, the intelligent athlete has great reason to be wary of agents claiming to enhance fat burning. What most people don't realize is that a real "magic bullet" exists. It is easily available, perfectly safe and highly effective for its cost. The ephedrine / caffeine stack is one of the most effective supplements you can buy. Period.

When the relative ineffectiveness of its more expensive counterparts are taken into consideration, the potency of the EC stack is quite staggering. One does not only "see results" but "feel them" as well. Placebo effect? Hardly. The efficacy of this stack has been documented time and time again in clinical study. Now back away from the monitor and sit back down in your chair. Before we get into practical information, it is first important to understand how exactly it works.

mechanism of action.

There are several variations on the "stack", but intrinsic to all of them are ephedrine and caffeine. People have experimented by adding in other elements [such as aspirin and tyrosine] but ephedrine and caffeine are the most fundamental functional elements of the stack. Furthermore, it is these two elements which have been studied most comprehensively in clinical study.

Ephedrine is what is known as a beta-agonist. It stimulates the beta receptors in the body. Among other functions, these receptors are responsible for stimulating the fat burning process. Ephedrine is a thermogenic compound - in non-gobbledygok this means it raises body temperature and metabolic rate. The body contains several different forms of adipose [fat] tissue. Brown Adipose Tissue [BAT] is one variety that is not very well known. BAT differs from normal adipose tissue in that it is found selectively in the body and it is metabolically active [i.e. it burns energy]. Ephedrine has been shown to stimulate BAT to expend energy, thereby raising metabolism. Ephedrine is also a potent bronchodilator - its ability to facilitate breathing has made it an effective over the counter aid against asthma. For this reason, ephedrine and its derivatives are often found in decongestant medications. One common variant is pseudo-ephedrine. As the name would suggest; pseudo-ephedrine shares some characteristics with pure ephedrine [i.e. bronchodilation]. However, the thermogenic and stimulatory effects are comparatively non-existent in pseudo-ephedrine. Finally, ephedrine is a known adrenergic agent, meaning that it promotes rises in adrenalin and noradrenaline levels in the body. Adrenalin / epinephrine and noradrenalin / norepinephrine are most commonly known for their role in the "fight or flight" response. But what is less known is the vital role these hormones play in fat loss. They can act directly upon adipose tissue to enhance lipolysis [fat burning].

Ephedrine itself can be obtained in two basic forms: as a herbal extract [Ephedra / Ma Huang] or as pure ephedrine hydrochloride. Ephedra / Ma Huang converts to ephedrine: the percentage with which it converts is usually listed on the bottle [atleast it should be]. For example, 300mg of 8% Ephedra / Ma Huang would convert to around 25 mg of pure ephedrine. Be sure to check for the standardization percentage to properly monitor dosages.

Caffeine is a chemical most of the adult population of the world is already quite familiar with. It has long been known to be a central nervous system booster and help the body use fats for fuel. It stimulates lipolysis by promoting epinephrine release. Like ephedrine, it is also a thermogenic compound that raises body temperature. Caffeine is readily found in soft drinks, coffee, tea, etc. It is suggested that one utilize pills [available at any health food or drug store] because of the consistency in dosage one can expect.

If caffeine is such a great fat burner, how come the majority of the world can partake in a cup or two in the morning and still have something hanging over their belts at night? Ephedrine and caffeine both are "okay" fat burners when used alone. However, once combined, they complement each other biochemically. Metaphorically speaking, 1+1 = 3, because of the synergy involved.

Many people advocate the addition of aspirin to the stack. Its prostaglandin inhibiting function is hypothesized to make the stack more effective. Since the majority of work done on the "stack" has demonstrated that ephedrine and caffeine are the most important parts of it - the inclusion of this element is your choice. Empirically there are individuals who have found better or worse results with either approach. As aspirin is not a "necessity" in order to derive the fat loss effects I personally feel it is somewhat unnecessary.

effects.

The first noticeable effect of the stack is a stimulatory one. Ephedrine and caffeine are by nature stimulants. Because of the surge in epinephrine produced by the stack, you get a giant kick initially. For most people this means that for a period of 2-3 hours they feel amped up and ready to take on the world. It should be noted that this effect is temporary and relative. For someone accustomed to heavy caffeine intake the effect may be minimal or even non-present. Furthermore, it decreases rapidly with time. However, if responsible usage of the stack is employed, this stimulatory effect can be effectively utilized to facilitate progress. The stimulatory effects are also useful during low-calorie dieting phases when one's energy is generally lower than normal.

The stack imparts a thermogenic effect, meaning that a noticeable increase in body temperature and perspiration rate will be readily observed. This serves a function important to fat loss : by raising the body's temperature, significantly more energy per unit time is expended. This makes dieting phases all the more efficient. One burns more fat just by existing, so to speak. The majority of early work done on the EC stack actually employed obese women who did little more than sit on their butts all day. Despite this relative inactivity, these individuals still observed highly efficient fat loss.

The EC stack also imparts appetite suppression. The duration and degree to which hunger is blunted varies from individual to individual, but on average, one can expect suppressed appetite for a period of 3-4 hours. This has obvious benefits towards fat loss, as a decreased desire to consume calories will help generate the caloric deficit necessary for fat loss that much easier.

Finally, the EC stack has been shown to decrease muscle loss during hypocaloric [low calorie] phases. This is especially important because of the mathematical influence muscle mass has on improving body composition. The objective of any fat loss period should not be to arbitrarily reduce "weight", but rather to reduce fat". For example, an athlete who weighs 200 lbs. at 10% bodyfat will have 20 lbs. of fat and 180 lbs. of lean tissue [muscle, bone, organs, water]. If they were to lose 10 lbs. of fat, their bodyweight decreases to 190 lbs. but their bodyfat has decreased to 5.2% [ 10 lbs. of fat / 190 lbs. total bodyweight]. However, if they were to lose 10 lbs. of muscle, their bodyweight would still be 190 lbs. , but at 10.5% bodyfat  they are technically fatter than they were than when they started. One rarely loses pure fat or gains pure muscle ; it will always be a combination of the two. However, any agent that can help minimize muscle loss while maximizing fat loss will mathematically facilitate positive changes in body fat percentage as well. In fact, subjects using the ECA stack lost 7.5 more lbs. than other subjects on a similar diet and using a placebo. In another seperate study, obese subjects lost 10 lbs. more fat and 5 lbs. less lean body mass than subjects who did not utilize the stack during dieting phases.

A negative general effect often observed during dieting phases is a reduction in HDL [good] cholesterol. The EC stack, interestingly enough, has been documented to preserve HDL cholesterol levels in the bloodstream despite fat loss.

Ephedrine has also been shown to spare glucose during dieting phases. What this implies is that the body is forced to derive energy through alternate means than through the oxidation [burning] of glucose. This means that the body is forced to burn more fat than it would normally.

The stack is not without its drawbacks, however. As aforementioned the stimulatory effects attenuate [slow down, diminish] as usage progresses. The adrenal receptors often quickly compensate for the higher levels of epinephrine in the body. The important thing to note is that although the stimulatory effects of the stack are known to diminish, the fat loss benefits do not. Fat loss efficiency continues unimpeded. In fact, one subject lost 145 lbs. of bodyfat over the course of 13 months, and another study found an increase in the rate of fat loss as time progressed. These points are highly significant. Why? Firstly, during restricted intake phases, the body eventually protects itself by limiting the amount of bodyfat being lost. This is commonly referred to as a "starvation" state - the body, in an effort to protect itself from death by starvation, retains fat stores so that it has a reserve of energy should food run out. This is the reason why fat loss is typically excellent only during the initial stages of a diet but decline / stagnate over time. As such, the fact that the EC stack has been shown counteract starvation state is obviously beneficial to losing bodyfat.

The stack is not psychologically or physiologically addictive. There are some withdrawal symptoms [lethargy, headache] which are to be expected when coming off consistently high levels of caffeine in the bloodstream. This is not the case for many diet drugs, which often carry with them harsh withdrawal symptoms. Usage can be stopped at any time.

problems.

There are several negative side effects associated with the EC stack.

The stimulatory effects observed in the initial stages of usage can prove annoying. One might observe a mild case of the "jitters" - hands quivering lightly even though they are not agitated. As aforementioned, these effects decrease over time, but may be a consideration for those who require delicate motor control [i.e. surgeons, electronics workers, etc.]. This effect can also be minimized through intelligent dosing schemes. If one eases into usage and not immediately employ heavy dosages, the stimulatory effect is minimal.

Secondly, the stack can cause diarrhea if taken on an empty stomach, like creatine monohydrate. This effect, however, can be minimized
by taking the stack with a meal. Empirically, the diarrhea seems to be related more to caffeine levels than ephedrine levels. As a result, if one is accustomed to caffeine in their diet this may not even be a concern.

Since the stack is stimulatory, it is not a smart idea to take a hit of it after 6:00 PM [assuming you're in bed by 11:00 PM. Remember that you
can "feel" the stimulatory effects of the stack for a good 3-4 hours after taking it. Taking the stack too late in the night will keep you awake and
restless when you normally go to bed. Most people like a good night of sleep. It should be noted that for many people accustomed to the stack, this is not a concern. In fact, I've found myself able to go to sleep immediately after taking the EC stack on more than one occassion.

Ephedrine does raise blood pressure, but only temporarily. This is NOT a permanent effect (unlike eating excessive saturated fats in the diet). As
soon as you cease usage, i.e. even in the same day, blood pressure returns to normal. It is not necessary to worry about negative impacts on
blood pressure.

There are people who should NOT use the stack. You should not use ephedrine is you have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, thyroid disease, diabetes or an enlarged prostate. Furthermore, if you are taking any MAO inhibitor drugs for depression or appetite suppression, you should stay away from ephedrine. St. John's wort is a supplement that is currently blowing it up - and while the studies have not yet determined the mechanism through which it works - two possible ones are hypothesized. 1] SJW might work through very low level monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibition and 2] it might work by blocking the reuptake of serotonin in the brain. It is better to err on the side of caution, no? So for now - atleast until the mechanism through which SJW works can be isolated, it is better to avoid taking SJW and Ephedrine together. Others (included myself) have combined the two in the past and have no noticed no ill effects - but we're talking brain neurochemistry here- not something you want to screw with.

Increased perspiration is an obvious effect from heightened thermogenesis, and although beneficial for fat loss, it's not quite as valuable for social interaction. Over the counter high strength antiperspirants such as Drysol can be obtained to counteract this problem.

facts and fallacies.

Ephedrine is a banned substance in several US States. Why is this so? The most prominent issue regarding ephedrine is its use in the illegal synthesis of methamphetamine. In an effort to control illicit drug production, authorities have taken to banning the sale of ephedrine. Ephedrine itself is not methamphetamine, but can be converted through dangerous chemical processes to yield a more powerful drug.

Politics, not surprisingly, play a role in this issue as well. In our society, we've become psychologically conditioned to respond frantically to alarmist propoganda. People respond more than they think when confronted by "facts" from the media. They act before they understand. All someone has to do is utter the words "Studies show" and people people it to be gospel. I am not one of these people. I would rather know the facts for myself and make a decision based on them rather than have someone telling me what to think.

Recently, the FDA questioned the deaths of three wrestlers who used creatine before a competition. In year's of medical study, never once has there been any fatalities correlated with creatine usage. In truth, there are millions of people using creatine at this very moment. And physiologically, there isn't really a plausible mechanism through which creatine could biochemically cause death. But hey - these wrestler's died - and they used creatine. So let's blame the creatine instead of exercising our minds. It's akin to someone wearing a Speedo bathing suit drowning in the ocean and concluding that Speedos cause drowning.

But correlation does not equal causation. Anyone who knows anything about competitive wrestling knows also about their dangerous weight reduction methods. The use of prescription diuretics like Lasix and other dangerous drugs. Depleting body water critical for life processes simply to make weight. But wrestler's and their coaches have not cared for years. All that matters is being as heavy as possible and cheating your way into a weight class you probably don't belong in. Remember the old adage about how you can go weeks without food but only days without water? These wrestler's died because of diuretic usage, not because of creatine. But rather than address the real issues at bay, or understand the situation fully, people react with their emotions.

Juris Shibayama has a very interesting story on just how alarmist our society has become. "A student at Eagle Rock Junior High won first prize at
the Greater Idaho Falls Science Fair, April 26. He was attempting to show how conditioned we have become to alarmists practicing junk science
and spreading fear of everything in our environment. In his project he urged people to sign a petition demanding strict control or total elimination
of the chemical "dihydrogen monoxide." And for plenty of good reasons, since: 1. it can cause excessive sweating and vomiting 2. it is a major
component in acid rain 3. it can cause severe burns in its gaseous state 4. accidental inhalation can kill you 5. it contributes to erosion 6. it
decreases effectiveness of automobile brakes 7. it has been found in tumors of terminal cancer patients He asked 50 people if they supported a
ban of the chemical. Forty-three (43) said yes, six (6) were undecided, and only one (1) knew that the chemical was WATER. The title of his prize
winning project was, "How Gullible Are We?" He feels the conclusion is obvious."

So why have I mentioned all of these things? To point out the fact that alarmist garbage often drowns the truth. These are just a few examples of
how popular thinking is not close to the truth. So let's get to the meat of the matter regarding ephedrine.

Several deaths have been linked to ephedrine. Don't run away scared just yet. Look up the studies in the references below and hear me out.

In all of these deaths, the amount of ephedrine consumed was at ridiculously high levels. It is not reccomended that you use more than 100 mg of ephedrine daily - in study, this has been more than sufficient for even morbidly obese individuals. Studies have been conducted where significantly more ephedrine than this amount was consumed daily and no ill effects were observed. But in some of these fatalities, levels showing the consumption of more than 250 mg of ephedrine at one time - 10 pills worth - is not uncommon. Would you take ten Tylenol and expect to be alright?  In some concoctions of the recreational drug "herbal ecstasy" one can find as much as 150 mg of
ephedrine [in addition to other more dangerous stimulants and drugs]. Anyone with a shred of common sense can tell that this is a dangerous
game to play; but most drug users aren't exactly Nobel Prize winners. I repeat, all deaths occurred involving ephedrine occurred when it
was used in maniacal doses.  One of the studies even recognized that many of the victims had histories of drug abuse. Even with the moderate
dosages used in some studies (i.e. 80 mg ephedrine 3 x daily = 240mg ephedrine daily), subjects tolerated the ephedrine well and no ill effects
were observed. The reccomendations for fat loss purposes are even lower than those in the studies. Obviously 100mg of ephedrine daily is
significantly less than 240mg daily; which was shown to be well tolerated. 240mg is still below the levels found in those who died from overdose.
Autopsies have shown that some of the teenagers who died as a result of ephedrine overdose had as much as 500mg in their dead carcasses!
It becomes obvious that stupidity, not ephedrine, is the murderer of these kids.

In an effort to stop irresponsible usage of ephedrine, most manufacturers now bind Guafeneisin to the ephedrine. What this does is ensure that it
is not possible to overdose on ephedrine. If excess ephedrine is taken, the guafeneisin also becomes excessive and irritates the stomach.
Vomiting is induced and hence the risk of overdose is diminished.

Toxicology reports actually show that ephedrine is within a safer usage bracket than ibuprofen or aspirin. More deaths have occurred because of
these two common pain killers, and yet they are never heard of causing any controversy. Why is this so? I'm not about to go political on your ass,
but think about the economic implications of pulling aspirin and ibuprofen off the market. How many billions of dollars would be lost? Maybe that
will give you a bit of a clue as to why the FDA is being so stupid regarding the most potent fat burner available to society.

reccomendations on usage.

The EC stack has been shown to work best when ephedrine and caffeine are combined in a 1mg to 10mg ratio. Since most ephedrine hydrochloride tablets come in 25mg tablets, this means that 250mg of caffeine should be utilized for optimal effects. However, this is not to suggest that the "optimal ratio" is the most important criteria to satisfy in selecting dosages. The difference in fat loss observed between using 25mg ephedrine/250mg caffeine and 25mg ephedrine/200mg caffeine is probably negligible at best.

I generally suggest avoiding the purchase of pre-made stacks such as Twinlab's Ripped Fuel or Sportpharma's Thermadrene. This reccomendation is not because they are poor products [they are excellent] or because they are ineffective. I make this suggestion because it is cheaper to purchase bulk ephedrine hydrochloride and caffeine tabs yourself. Furthermore, one can select the dosages that they want. Ephedrine is highly inexpensive to manufacture and as such there is little risk that variance in quality exists from one brand of ephedrine hydrochloride to the next. Nonetheless, it makes sense to stick with reputable companies.

Personal experience and the experience of others has shown that the optimal time to take the stack is between feedings. This way, the appetite-suppressant effects of the stack come into play by the time your meal rolls around.

Wait 3-4 hours between doses. Try to stay under 3-4 doses daily [75-100 mg ephedrine. Drink sufficiently as both through increased sweating and caffeine's diuretic effect you will lose bodily water.

I highly reccomend tapering dosages both coming on and off the stack. In doing so one minimizes side effects as well as the mild withdrawal symptoms observed [headache, fatigue].

Try not to use it excessively; give your adrenals a break. 5 days on the stack a week is plenty. The same restraint should apply on a more macroscopic level: although it's been done in clinical study, it's probably not a good idea for "relatively" normal individuals to be on the stack for months straight at a time.

Where can you find ephedrine and caffeine? If your local health food or drug store are dry, online stores such as Netrition are a sure bet.

The ephedrine / caffeine stack is a weapon that I believe should be in every dieter's arsenal, and one of the few supplements I truly believe in. If you've never felt as though you've gotten more bang for your supplement buck, give the stack a shot. You will not be disappointed.

references.

Astrup A, et al. (1995) Pharmacological and clinical studies of ephedrine and other thermogenic agonists. Obes Res 3, 537S-540S
Astrup A, et al. (1993) Thermogenic, metabolic, and cardiovascular responses to ephedrine and caffeine in man. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord
17, S41-S43
Astrup A, et al. (1992)  Ephedrine and weight loss. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 16(9), 715
Astrup A, et al. (1992)  The effect of ephedrine/caffeine mixture on energy expenditure and body composition in obese women. Metabolism
41(7), 686-688
Astrup A, et al. (1992) The effect and safety of an ephedrine/caffeine compound compared to ephedrine, caffeine and placebo in obese
subjects on an energy restricted diet. A double blind trial. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 16(4), 269-277
Astrup A, et al. (1992) Pharmacology of thermogenic drugs. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 55(1), 246S-248S
Astrup A, et al. (1991) Thermogenic synergism between ephedrine and caffeine in healthy volunteers: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.
Metabolism 40(3), 323-329
Battig K, et al. (1993) Acute and chronic cardiovascular and behavioural effects of caffeine, aspirin and ephedrine. Int J Obes Relat Metab
Disord 17, S61-S64
Breum L, et al. (1994) Comparison of an ephedrine/caffeine combination and dexfenfluramine in the treatment of obesity. A double-blind
multi-centre trial in general practice. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 18(2), 99-103
Bruno A, et al. (1993) Stroke associated with ephedrine use. Neurology 43(7), 1313-1316
Buemann B, et al. (1994)  The effect of ephedrine plus caffeine on plasma lipids and lipoproteins during a 4.2 MJ/day diet. Int J Obes Relat
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note: This information is for educational purposes only. I am not responsible for any effects that you may or may not incur while utilizing the ephedrine / caffeine stack. Use at your own risk. As with all things, consult your doctor before utilizing these supplements.