Xenadrine RFA-1 was marketed by Cytodyne Technologies as an herbal supplement used to aid in thermogenic weight loss. RFA-1 was discontinued in February 2003, shortly after the death of Baltimore Orioles' pitcher Steve Bechler. Bechler died of heat stroke after taking one pill more than the recommended dosage of two Xenadrine RFA-1 pills. Following that event, the government began investigating Cytodyne and the combination of ingredients contained in RFA-1. This combination is often referred to as ECA, or Ephedrine-Caffeine-Aspirin.
Xenadrine RFA-1 contains 25 mg of Ephedra alkaloids in the form of ma huang, an herbal supplement that has been illegal in the United States. When metabolized, ephedra alkaloids become ephedrine. A study by the National Institutes of Health indicates that ephedrine use results in a reduction of body mass, percent fat and fat mass. Ephedrine works by increasing the amount of adrenaline in the body. Adrenaline, also known as norepinephrine, aids in the breakdown of fat. Ephedrine has a similar but milder stimulant effect than methamphetamine and can be toxic if taken in large doses or used long term. Effects of consuming large doses of ephedra include irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and rapid heart rate (tachycardia). Long-term use can result in hypotension, hemorrhagic stroke and death.
Herbal caffeine is another ingredient of Xenadrine RFA-1 and is obtained through an extract of the herb guarana. Although it is against the law to sell the combination of caffeine & ephedrine when marketed as a drug, this combination is subject to less regulation when offered as an herbal supplement. RFA-1 contains 200 mg of caffeine, which amplifies the effects of ephedrine. A study published in the June 2005 edition of "Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics" found that this combination results in an increase in blood glucose levels and a decrease in potassium levels. This could be dangerous to some users of RFA-1 because these effects may worsen conditions such as hypertension and glucose intolerance.
White willow bark is another herbal ingredient that contains salicin, which metabolizes into salicylic acid (aspirin). White willow bark heightens and prolongs the activity of both caffeine and ephedra, making them more effective. Aspirin has shown no indication of aiding in weight loss when consumed alone. However when combined with caffeine and ephedrine, it prevents the breakdown of adrenaline, which helps to "burn" fat. Consumers often think that products containing herbal or "natural" ingredients are safer than products offered as drugs. In truth, these products can be just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than drugs, because herbs do not require the approval of the Food and Drug Administration. Just as aspirin increases the positive effects of ephedra and caffeine, it also increases the adverse effects. Because of this, the combination of the three can be lethal.
- The Health Professional's Guide to Dietary Supplements, Shawn M. Talbott, Kerry Hughes, 2006.