The cardiovascular side effects of Ma Huang due to its use in isolation in the Western world

Ming Zhang, Paul Schiffers, Ger Janssen, Misha Vrolijk, Philippe Vangrieken, Guido R. M. M. Haenen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Web of Science)


Introduction: An impediment for the acceptance of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in the West is that the improper use of some TCM is associated with serious side effects. This is exemplified by Ma Huang Decoction (MHD), a Ma Huang containing TCM formula used to treat asthma. The reported cardiovascular side effects often involve the inappropriate use of Ma Huang in isolation, while in TCM clinical practice Ma Huang is combined with other herbs in MHD to mitigate side effects. The aim of the study was to investigate the potential of Ma Huang as it is used in TCM, explore how it may affect the cardiovascular system and compare this to Ma Huang as it is used in the West. Methods: The contractile response of isolated arteries from human placenta to Ma Huang, MHD, and MHD without Ma Huang was used in a bioassay to evaluate their cardiovascular side effects. Results: The contractile response by Ma Huang in isolation is much higher than that of Ma Huang in combination with the other herbs in MHD. This confirms that the interplay of the various compounds in MHD may mitigate the side effects of Ma Huang. Previous studies showed that the other herbs in MHD also increase the therapeutic efficacy of Ma Huang. This indicates that the incorrect use of Ma Huang in isolation, and without the supervision of knowledgeable professionals, is likely to be the reasons why the cardiovascular side effects are reported in the West. Conclusion: To fully value and appreciate its benefit, TCM should be used appropriately as developed over centuries in China.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-22
Number of pages5
JournalEuropean Journal of Integrative Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • Traditional Chinese medicine
  • Ma Huang
  • Ephedrine
  • Toxicity
  • RATS
  • PAIR

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