One botanical that may be a viable alternative to ephedra is green tea. As both a properly brewed beverage and dietary supplement extract form, green tea contains a cocktail of bioactives, a virtual 5-piece metabolic band.
First, it contains caffeine, the companion bioactive in virtually all ephedra-containing products (usually provided from extracts of Kola Nut, Guarana, or even Yerba Mate).
Secondly, green tea has a host of four prominent catechins (CAT-u-kins), astringent, mouth-"drying" constituents that possess a number of metabolic and physiological tricks up their sleeves. The King of Catechins is EGCG (EpiGalloCatechin Gallate), which also happens to occur in the greatest amount among the green tea catechins.
What got the water boiling on green tea and body composition was a paper published 3 years ago. In it, ten lean to slightly overweight young male subjects (who consumed an average range of 100-200 mg of caffeine/day, equal to about 1-2 cups of moderate-strength coffee) were given at three separate times three different formulations: (1) two capsules of a green tea extract supplying 50 mg of caffeine and 90 mg of EGCG, (2) two caps containing 50 mg of caffeine, or (3) two caps containing cellulose.
These men took each of the two caps three times (with meals) over one day while they "lived" in a metabolic chamber for 24 hours straight. These very expensive "calorie crypts" allow researchers to directly and precisely measure the number and type of calories burned. Each treatment was separated by 5-10 days.
When they took the green tea extract, total calories burned were 2.8% (266) and 3.5% (329) higher (over 24 hours), relative to the placebo and caffeine caps, respectively. Moreover, the green tea caps appeared to shift the fuel of choice away from carbs and more toward fats.
A research study published this year followed 70 overweight/overfat subjects (63 women and 7 men) for a period of 12 weeks while they took the same green tea extract and dose, yet this time only at morning and mid-day periods (total intake of 150 mg of caffeine and 270 mg of EGCG/day). This study did not have a placebo group. A total of 66 subjects completed the 12-week journey, with the average weight loss being 7.7 pounds (3 pounds were lost by week 4) and a 4 cm drop in waist size (2 cm at week 4). Blood pressure also fell as the study progressed.
Could an adequate dose of caffeine and catechins from green tea successfully pinch hit for ephedra + caffeine? A placebo/caffeine-controlled study would help answer the question.
In addition to its in vitro fat digestion-arresting effects, green tea catechins may also reduce the absorption of carbohydrates and have favorable effects upon carbohydrate metabolism by "mimicking" some of the effects of insulin.