Losing fat can be a long and challenging process, especially if you do it in a healthy, sustainable way. While there are plenty of supplements on the market that may promise fast fat-burning results, chances are they either won't work or come with some pretty serious side effects.
ECA stacks or pills are no exception. The combination of ephedrine, caffeine and aspirin has been used as a fat-loss supplement in the past, but the truth is that it poses some serious side effects and can quickly become dangerous.
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What Is Ephedrine?
Derived from the Chinese botanical ephedra, ephedrine supplements are often advertised to promote weight loss and improve athletic performance, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). You can also find synthetic ephedrine in over-the-counter decongestants or cold medicines.
When you take ephedrine, your body begins to release more norepinephrine, a hormone that's produced in your adrenal glands, according to the Hormone Health Network. Norepinephrine is a component of adrenaline, which increases your heart rate, increases blood pressure and helps break down fat.
While ephedrine has been shown to promote fat loss, it has also been linked to some pretty scary side effects, according to the NIH. Research has shown that ephedrine combined with caffeine (as in an ECA stack) can increase the risk of nausea, vomiting and even psychiatric symptoms like anxiety.
In 2004, the FDA actually banned the sale of supplements containing ephedra due to the high risk of adverse side effects, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Alongside the side effects noted above, ephedra can worsen conditions like heart or kidney disease and has been associated with increased risk of stroke.
The Dangers of Combining Ephedrine and Caffeine
Caffeine may help increase calorie burn and suppress appetite, according to the Mayo Clinic. But there's no firm evidence that has connected increased caffeine intake and weight or fat loss.
Some research has found that drinking coffee might support weight loss maintenance, however. According to a November 2015 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who drank more coffee managed to more effectively maintain their weight loss. Nevertheless, it's not advised that you rely on caffeine for weight-loss maintenance, as more research on the subject is necessary.
When caffeine and ephedrine are taken together, the combination may help burn more fat than caffeine taken alone, according to a May 2013 study published in Obesity. But mixing these two stimulants can also intensify or increase the risk of dangerous side effects, according to the NIH.
What About the Aspirin in ECA?
As with ephedrine, misuse of aspirin (the third ingredient in an ECA stack) can be risky and may cause some pretty serious side effects. Mixed with ephedra and caffeine, aspirin helps keep norepinephrine high and may help suppress appetite, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
If taken properly, aspirin isn't generally dangerous and may be prescribed to help treat conditions like high blood pressure. However, aspirin can also prevent formation of lining in your stomach, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Without a protective lining, you become more susceptible to stomach upset or bleeding in the stomach and intestines.
The Verdict on ECA Supplements
While ECA supplements may accelerate weight loss, don't disregard the potentially dangerous side effects of this concoction.
While the FDA has banned ephedra-alkaloids, the agency doesn't regulate supplements too closely, so there's no guarantee that the pills you're buying are safe or contain the ingredients listed. In fact, some fat-loss supplements may even contain hidden ingredients, which can even further raise the risk of negative side effects.
Fat-burning supplements may sound great in theory, but they're no magic pill. The secret behind long-term fat loss truly lies in healthy diet and regular exercise. Instead of relying on risky supplements, prioritize nutrient-dense, healthy meals and consistent, daily exercise and movement. Before long, you'll begin to shed fat sustainably for the long run.
Read more: 8 Healthy Ways to Burn Body Fat — and Keep It Off
The ECA stack combines strong stimulants. Combining ephedrine, caffeine and aspirin can lead to serious side effects like anxiety, nausea, vomiting or stroke and may worsen conditions like heart or kidney disease.
- NIH: "Ephedra and Ephedrine Alkaloids for Weight Loss and Athletic Performance"
- Hormone Health Network: "Norepinephrine"
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Ephedra"
- Mayo Clinic: "Does Caffeine Help With Weight Loss?"
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Caffeine Intake is Related to Successful Weight Loss Maintenance"
- Obesity: "The Effect of Leptin, Caffeine/Ephedrine, and Their Combination Upon Visceral Fat Mass and Weight Loss"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Why the FDA Banned Ephedra"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Daily Low-Dose Aspirin can Prevent Heart Attack and Stroke But is Often Misused, From the January 2014 Harvard Heart Letter"