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10 Potential Benefits of Synephrine + Side Effects

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology) | Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:

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Synephrine is a naturally occurring chemical that has been sought after by athletes and those looking to lose weight due to its effects on the body’s energy production. However, this compound can also act as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent and may have other important health benefits. Read on to learn more about the benefits, mechanisms, and the safety of synephrine supplementation.

What is Synephrine?

Synephrine is a biogenic amine [1].

It is found at high levels in the peels of citrus plants, like bitter orange or Seville orange (Citrus aurantium). Extracts from fruits or peels of these plants have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat stomach problems and allergies for hundreds of years [2, 3].

There is much confusion over whether synephrine is safe and what effects it has on the body. This is because many sources, and even some scientific journals, confuse synephrine with other substances including:

  • Bitter orange (C. aurantium) extract – has high amounts of synephrine but also contains other chemicals [4, 5]
  • Phenylephrine/m-synephrine/neo-synephrine – a chemical very close in structure to synephrine (also called p-synephrine) that affects the body differently. M-synephrine is used as a nasal decongestant and also to dilate pupils during eye surgery. While plant sources contain mostly p-synephrine, many supplements do not state which form they contain, and m-synephrine has been found in supplements [6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11]
  • Ephedrine – has a similar chemical structure to synephrine, and has been banned due to health risks. Synephrine has fewer adverse effects on the heart [12]

Mechanism of Action

Effects on Metabolism

P-synephrine affects the body’s energy production, by altering the function of the liver, which produces many enzymes and plays a large role in regulating digestion and energy production in the body. It:

  • Increases the breakdown of glucose and glycogen in the liver of rats and mice [13, 14, 15].
  • Prevents the conversion of sugars into fats in mice [15].
  • Increases the amount of ATP available to power chemical reactions in the liver of mice [15].
  • Increases glucose consumption in muscle by stimulating AMPK, an enzyme that senses fuel levels in cells and stimulates burning of fats. It also increases the intake of sugar into cells [16, 17].
  • Inhibits α-amylase and α-glucosidase, enzymes that digest complex starches. This is likely to prevent post-meal blood sugar spikes [18].

Stimulatory Effects

P-synephrine only weakly activates alpha-1 and alpha-2 adrenoreceptors, which typically respond to adrenaline (norepinephrine) and increase heart rate and blood pressure.

Basically, this means that p-synephrine is not likely to cause elevations in blood pressure or heart rate [19, 20].

Ephedrine is similar in structure to synephrine, but it strongly activates the alpha-1 and alpha-2 adrenoreceptors. M-synephrine more strongly activates these adrenoceptors than p-synephrine, but still less than ephedrine or adrenaline [21, 22, 23, 24].

P-synephrine also stimulates neuromedin U2 receptors, molecules found mostly in the hypothalamus, which increases wakefulness [25, 26].

Anti-Inflammatory Effects

Synephrine stops the production of eotaxin-1, a molecule that signals to eosinophils to move to an inflamed area. It also blocks the activity of the NADPH oxidase, an enzyme produced in neutrophils that creates many reactive oxygen species [27, 28, 29].

Synephrine also reduces the activation of NF-κB. Overactive NF-κB plays a role in many inflammatory diseases like asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, and psoriasis [30, 31].

Other Effects

Synephrine may also block acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase, enzymes that are harmful in Alzheimer’s disease [18, 32].

However, these effects have not been explored in animal or human studies.

Health Benefits of Synephrine

1) May Increase Metabolic Rate

A study of 10 subjects given 50 mg of p-synephrine showed that the subjects burned 65 calories more than participants given placebo in the first 75 minutes after taking the supplement.

Subjects given synephrine did not have increased blood pressure or heart rate [11].

2) May Aid Fat Loss

A study of 17 people given p-synephrine before exercise showed that people given p-synephrine burned more fat as opposed to carbohydrates during exercise. No effect on heart rate was observed [10].

Another study of 23 people given a combination of caffeine and bitter orange extract (C. aurantium) showed higher amounts of fat being burned even while at rest than those given placebos. This study also found no difference in heart rate or blood pressure between the groups [33].

These results are supported by a study of 12 men that showed increased fat burning at rest and up to 30 minutes after exercise in men given synephrine, or a combination of synephrine and caffeine compared to placebo. In this study, only those men given caffeine showed increased heart rates [34].

Small doses of caffeine may be needed for synephrine to burn fat while the body is at rest, however. Another study of 18 people found that p-synephrine without caffeine did not burn more fat at rest, but did burn more during exercise [35].

The sizes of these studies are small, so more research is needed to confirm these effects, but the initial research is promising [12, 36].

3) May Improve Athletic Performance

A study of 12 men showed that p-synephrine taken 45 minutes before exercise increased the number of repetitions and maximum weight load when performing squats compared to placebo.

Taking caffeine in addition to p-synephrine further increased the subjects’ maximal squat repetitions and weight load [37].

However, another study of 13 sprinters given p-synephrine failed to show improvement in sprint velocity or jumping heights compared to placebo [38].

4) May Treat Stomach Problems Like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

Synephrine reduced the movement of intestinal muscles. Overactive intestinal muscles are linked to a number of stomach problems, like irritable bowel syndrome and constipation [2, 39].

No studies directly link synephrine to the relief of stomach problems, but its ability to reduce intestinal muscle movement makes it a promising treatment for these health issues.

5) May Improve Mood and Energy Levels

Mice with classic signs of depression, including sleep problems and changes in eating habits, do worse in response to stressful events, like being forced to swim, than healthy mice do.

One study showed that mice fed synephrine were able to swim longer, indicating higher energy and mood levels [40, 41, 42].

6) May Be an Antioxidant

Synephrine reduced the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) released by neutrophils (a type of white blood cell found at sites of inflammation) by inhibiting the enzyme NADPH oxidase, which produces many types of free radicals [29].

7) May Reduce Inflammation

In mice with lung injury, synephrine reduced the number of inflammatory cells and inflammatory cytokines TNF-alpha and IL-6, while increasing the anti-inflammatory IL-10 [30].

In addition, synephrine also reduced the activation of NF-κB. Overactive NF-κB plays a role in many inflammatory diseases like asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, and psoriasis [30, 31].

In cell studies, synephrine stopped the production of eotaxin-1, a molecule that signals to eosinophils to move to an inflamed area.

It also blocked the activity of the NADPH oxidase, an enzyme produced in neutrophils that creates many reactive oxygen species [27, 28, 29].

8) May Reduce Allergy Symptoms

A study performed using guinea pigs showed that synephrine reduced spasms of the smooth muscle in the trachea, a symptom that is associated with coughing. Synephrine also reduced asthma symptoms that occurred when the animals were given histamines [3].

9) May Be an Antibiotic

One laboratory study showed that synephrine prevented the growth of some bacteria including E. coli, which can cause food poisoning, as well as Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause skin infections [43].

10) May Treat Fungal Infections

Bitter orange oil, which contains synephrine in addition to other active ingredients, in one study of 60 patients, improved fungal skin infections of the (feet, body/skin, or groin) in 2 to 3 weeks in over 80% of participants [4, 44].

It is sometimes claimed that synephrine may treat fungal skin infections, commonly known as ringworm, but synephrine itself has not been studied as for this use.

Side Effects & Precautions

Serious side effects of supplements that contain synephrine have been reported. Most of these reports stem from the use of supplements that contain other active ingredients like caffeine in addition to synephrine, making it impossible to know if synephrine or other ingredients are responsible.

Reported side effects of synephrine-containing supplements include:

  • Hallucinations/psychosis [45]
  • Coronary spasms and thrombosis [46]
  • Heart rhythm disturbances (ventricular fibrillation) [47]
  • A decrease in muscle size (rhabdomyolysis) [48]
  • Kidney failure [48]
  • Blood clots [48]
  • Nerve damage due to increased pressure in muscles (bilateral compartment syndrome) [48]
  • Chest pain (variant angina) [49]
  • Stroke [50]

However, a review of 30 human studies involving over 600 subjects concludes that p‐synephrine (within a bitter orange extract) does not adversely affect the heart, liver, kidneys, or thyroid at doses up to 100 mg. Over 40% of these subjects consumed caffeine in conjunction with bitter orange extract (p‐synephrine) [20].

Further, in studies in mice both bitter orange (C. aurantium) extract and caffeine increase blood pressure, while pure synephrine had minimal effects on heart rate and blood pressure [51, 52].

Limitations and Caveats

The longest study on the safety of synephrine followed 16 individuals over just 15 days. No adverse effects were reported in this study, but further research is needed to determine if synephrine is safe to consume over longer periods of time [53].

Higher doses of synephrine may be associated with a higher risk of adverse effects. A study of mice showed high rates of serious side effects, including gasping and reduced motor function.

The study used very high doses of synephrine, however (150 to 2,000 mg/kg of body mass, compared to the recommended dose of 2 mg/kg body mass or less) [54, 20].

Caffeine combined with synephrine may be more likely to cause elevated blood pressure and heart rate than synephrine alone, with the risk being even greater when high doses of caffeine were taken (320 mg daily or more) [55, 56].

Drug Interactions

Synephrine may interact with other supplements and medicine. Known interactions include:

  • Caffeineincreases the effect of synephrine on the body’s ability to burn fat but is also associated with greater risk for adverse heart-related effects [37, 55]
  • MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors, used to treat depression) – may cause increased blood pressure when taken with substances similar to synephrine [57]
  • Gliclazide (taken to control diabetes) – may have an increased effect in reducing blood sugar when taken with synephrine [58]

Sources and Supplementation

Synephrine occurs naturally in certain species of plants:

  • Citrus fruits especially Seville oranges and Satsuma oranges [59]
  • Bitter orange (C. aurantium) peel extracts [60]
  • Evodia rutaecarpa, an herb used in traditional Chinese medicine [29]
  • Pill or supplement, often in combination with other ingredients

Dosage

Evidence shows that it is safe to consume up to 50 mg per day of synephrine without caffeine. In combination with up to 320 mg of caffeine, it is only recommended to take up to 40 mg of synephrine per day [20].

User Experiences

  • “My appetite decreased and my mood has been enhanced. I feel less fatigued and more energized while using it. I would recommend this to anyone, but I would start out taking only half of the recommended dose or you will not be able to sleep.”
  • “Synephrine is only as good as caffeine- it only works for a short time and is followed by a big let down.”
  • “After taking it for a couple of weeks I’ve noticeably lost weight. I’m only taking one tablet a day, so I’m sure if I took the recommended dose, my results would be faster. I didn’t have any jitters or weirdness at all.”

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About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen won the genetic lottery of bad genes. As a kid, he suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, and other issues that were poorly understood in both conventional and alternative medicine.Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a journey of self-experimentation and self-learning to improve his health--something that has since become known as “biohacking”. With thousands of experiments and pubmed articles under his belt, Joe founded SelfHacked, the resource that was missing when he needed it. SelfHacked now gets millions of monthly readers.Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, author and speaker. He is the CEO of SelfHacked, SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer.His mission is to help people gain access to the most up-to-date, unbiased, and science-based ways to optimize their health.
Joe has been studying health sciences for 17 years and has read over 30,000 PubMed articles. He's given consultations to over 1000 people who have sought his health advice. After completing the pre-med requirements at university, he founded SelfHacked because he wanted to make a big impact in improving global health. He's written hundreds of science posts, multiple books on improving health, and speaks at various health conferences. He's keen on building a brain-trust of top scientists who will improve the level of accuracy of health content on the web. He's also founded SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer, popular genetic and lab software tools to improve health.

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