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Until 2004 ephedra was the best known of all diet energy pills. It was marketed as a supplement that could help you lose weight while boosting the metabolism. Unfortunately, it turned out to have serious side effects. It was found to contribute to a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes, as well as increasing the body’s susceptibility to heatstroke which was said to have caused the death of at least one athlete.
So ephedra was taken off the market and it is now illegal. However, other diet energy pills have sprung up to replace it. Are they safe or do they carry the same risks as ephedra? In this article we will look at the most popular ‘ephedra clone’ , bitter orange, and ask about its side effects.
The scientific name for bitter orange is Citrus aurantium. It comes from the same family of trees as the one that produces the bitter fruits known as Seville oranges, used for making marmalade. The bitter orange extract that has been promoted as a weight loss supplement is made from the peel.
Like other diet energy pills, bitter orange acts as a stimulant. The active ingredient is synephrine which is said to boost the metabolism and suppress appetite.
However, it has dangers. Studies have found that synephrine is very similar to the active ingredient of ephedra, epinephrine. It also seems to be like ephedra in its effects. Therefore, it carries a similar risk of heart attacks and strokes. It also interacts with some other drugs, e.g. statins, in a way that can have serious effects. In this respect it is like grapefruit, which must not be eaten if you are taking certain medications.
In small quantities, extracts of bitter orange are used in many foods. It is used to make bergamot oil which is an ingredient in Earl Grey tea, among other things. Bitter orange peel can be an ingredient in gingerbread and cakes, as well as marmalade. All of these uses are considered safe – but the quantity of synephrine in them is very small.
Most medical sources agree that bitter orange should not be used for medicinal purposes. So most people consider that diet energy pills containing bitter orange are not safe to take as a weight loss supplement.
But if bitter orange comes with many of the same side effects as ephedra, how come it isn’t banned? That’s a good question. The answer lies in the regulatory system. Ephedra was marketed as a drug, requiring approval from the FDA. In the beginning this approval was given, but when it became clear that people taking ephedra were dying, the FDA withdrew its approval and the drug was banned.
However, bitter orange is sold as a food supplement. Food supplements are not regulated in the same way, so it does not require the same FDA approval. That doesn’t mean that it’s safe. So please take a look at our other articles to find safe weight loss supplements, rather than looking for bitter orange diet energy pills to replace ephedra.