September 2020

COVID-19: Warn Patients About Poisonous Oleander Extract

Oleandrin, a chemical extracted from oleander, is getting a lot of press as a potential COVID-19 treatment. Make sure patients understand that it is poisonous and should NOT be taken as a dietary supplement or home remedy.

Oleander is a flowering shrub that is famous for its use as a poison. It contains cardiac glycosides, which have effects similar to the prescription medication, digoxin. Taking any part of the plant by mouth can cause a wide range of toxic effects, including vomiting, respiratory paralysis, serious heart problems and death. There are some claims that oleandrin is safe because it is a “purified” part of oleander. But the research doesn’t support this claim. In fact, oleandrin is one of the cardiac glycosides responsible for the toxicity of oleander.

There aren’t any dietary supplements containing oleander available in the US, but there are some homeopathic products on the market. Homeopathic products contain extreme dilutions of substances, often so dilute that they contain undetectable amounts of the active ingredient. While homeopathic products aren’t likely to cause direct harm, make sure patients understand that they are NOT effective for COVID-19.

Tell patients that despite what they may hear on the news or read online, there’s no evidence that taking oleander extract, or any dietary supplement, can treat or prevent COVID-19. And patients should never attempt to make their own treatments using any part of the oleander plant. Taking even a small amount of an oleander-containing product can be toxic.

For more information about natural medicines and COVID-19, see our latest articles and resources.

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