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FDA warns that tejocote root weight loss products contain toxic oleander instead

Products sold online claiming to be tejocote root are in fact yellow oleander, which is toxic. FDA warns consumers to stop using the products, which are sold under a variety of brand names.

Hank Schultz

January 8, 2024

4 Min Read

A warning has been issued about products labeled as tejocote root supplements that instead contained toxic yellow oleander. The problem first surfaced in late 2022. 

The warning was issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week concerning products labeled as tejocote root (Crataegus Mexicana) that were tested and found to be substituted with yellow oleander (Cascabela thevetia). The products have been sold as weight loss aids. 

In addition to bearing the Spanish common name of tejocote, according to the reference work Herbs of Commerce published by the American Herbal Products Association, the plant also is commonly referred to as Mexican Hawthorne. In addition, the University of Texas El Paso, in an online resource listed as “UTEP Herbal Safety,” lists texocotl as a common name for the plant. 

Mexican Hawthorne is a large bush or small tree native to Mexico and Central America bearing small fruits reminiscent of crabapples. According to the UTEP resource, only the fruits of this plant have been used in traditional medicine in Mexico, where they were employed for coughs, to promote urination (as a diuretic), and for respiratory problems.  

However, many products sold online list “root” as part of the common name on the labels, such as “Mexican Tejocote Root.”   

Related:Biopharma firm asserts oleander—possible COVID-19 treatment—is safe

According to the UTEP site, only one recent scientific citation could be found linking the use of the root as a weight loss aid, and in that case, it was for a tea that included other ingredients. 

In any case, according to FDA, the nine products it tested did not contain tejocote at all but were wholly substituted with yellow oleander, a toxic shrub with a similar native range to that of tejocote. 

Following trail of investigation

FDA’s investigation was spurred by a previous paper published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That investigation was a follow on to a case report from Sept. 9, 2022, of a 23-month-old child admitted to an emergency room in New Jersey who had ingested a product branded as Eva Nutrition Mexican Tejocote Root. The child, who was successfully treated, was suffering from nausea, vomiting, and an abnormally low heart rate and low blood pressure. 

Following that report, health officials in New Jersey in conjunction with analytical chemist James Kababick, director of Flora Research Laboratories in Grants Pass, Ore., purchased and tested 10 products branded as tejocote root. Of the 10, nine were found to contain yellow oleander, with no evidence of tejocote root. The 10th product was found to contain neither tejocote nor yellow oleander. The researchers used a validated tejocote root reference standard provided by herbal expert Trish Flaster, head of Colorado-based Botanical Innovations. 

The more recent FDA warning said that consumers should avoid using the products as ingesting yellow oleander can cause “neurologic, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular adverse health effects that may be severe, or even fatal. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, abdominal pain, cardiac changes, dysrhythmia, and more.” 

Oleander in the news

Yellow oleander is often used as an ornamental plant, popular for both its beauty and hardiness. This is not the first time this plant, whose toxicity is fairly widely known, has surfaced as a supposed supplement ingredient. 

Early in the global pandemic, social media reports started to surface that oleandrin, one of the toxic compounds in the plant, could be used to treat Covid-19 infections.  

Later that year, FDA rejected a new dietary ingredient notification (NDIN) for oleandrin, a constituent of oleander. The NDIN had been submitted by Phoenix Biotechnology Inc.  

In rejecting the notification, FDA said oleandrin had previously been investigated as a drug. In addition, it said it has serious reservations that the ingredient would be safe under the conditions of use outlined in the notification.   

Phoenix Biotechnology listed its ingredient as having been extracted from a closely related species to yellow oleander, Nerium oleander

 

About the Author(s)

Hank Schultz

Senior Editor, Informa

Hank Schultz has been the Senior Editor of Natural Products Insider since early 2023. 

Prior to joining the Informa team he was an editor at NutraIngredients-USA, a William Reed Business Media publication.

His approach to industry journalism was formed via a long career in the daily newspaper field.  After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with degrees in journalism and German, Hank was an editor at the Tempe Daily News in Arizona. He followed that with a long stint working at the Rocky Mountain News, a now defunct daily newspaper in Denver, where he rose to be one of the city editors.  The newspaper won two Pulitzer Prizes during his time there.

The changing landscape of the newspaper industry led him to explore other career paths. He began his career in the natural products industry more than a decade ago at New Hope Natural Media, which was then part of Penton and now is an Informa brand. Hank formed friendships and partnerships within the industry that still inform his work to this day, which helps him to bring an insider’s perspective, tempered with an objective journalist’s sensibility, to his in-depth reporting.

Harkening back to his newspaper days, Hank considers the readers to be the primary stakeholders whose needs must be met. Report the news quickly, comprehensively and above all, fairly, and readership and sponsorships will follow.

In 2015, Hank was recognized by the American Herbal Products Association with a Special Award for Journalistic Excellence.

When he’s not reporting on the supplement industry, Hank enjoys many outside pursuits. Those include long distance bicycle touring, mountain climbing, sailing, kayaking, and fishing. Less strenuous pastimes include travel, reading (novels and nonfiction), studying German, noodling on a harmonica, sketching and a daily dose of word puzzles in The New York Times.

Last but far from least, Hank is a lifelong fan and part owner of the Green Bay Packers.

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