Oleandrin, a toxic substance found in the poisonous oleander plant, is making headlines as a potential treatment for COVID-19, raising concerns that uninformed people may eat the leaves of this plant and become ill or die. Though renowned for its beauty and use in landscaping, this Mediterranean shrub is toxic and responsible for cases of accidental poisoning–even suicides–across the globe.
Oleandrin has properties similar to the drug digoxin, an approved drug that I have used for many years in the treatment of heart disease, but, sadly, oleandrin contains none of the positive attributes of digoxin. After consuming of any part of oleandrin, toxicity begins to follow in several hours. The first symptoms of poisoning may be gastrointestinal, such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea (which may contain blood). After these first symptoms, the heart may manifest dangerous irregularities and a burning sensation in the eyes, yellow vision, paralysis of the gastrointestinal tract, and, finally, respiratory failure. Oleandrin poisoning may also affect the central nervous system, as evidenced by drowsiness, tremors, seizures, collapse, and coma leading to death. If that’s not enough, when applied to the skin, oleander sap can cause skin irritations and allergic reactions characterized by dermatitis.
Needless to say, neither oleander nor oleandrin is approved by regulatory agencies as a prescription drug or dietary supplement.
As reported by Axios, Oleandrin was considered for possible use against COVID-19, making headlines after former President Trump met in the Oval Office with Andrew Whitney, vice chairman and director of Phoenix Biotechnology, along with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, MD, and MyPillow founder/CEO Mike Lindell, a strong supporter of Trump and an investor in the biotech company, to learn about oleandrin, which Whitney called a “cure” for COVID-19..
In an in vitro (test tube) study, researchers from Phoenix Biotechnology and the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, tested oleandrin against SARS-CoV-2 in cultured cells.
“When administered both before and after virus infection, nanogram doses of oleandrin significantly inhibited replication by 45 to 3000-fold,” the researchers said in an article posted on bioRxiv, a free online archive and distribution service for unpublished reports in the life sciences. The study has not been peer reviewed.
On the basis of these in vitro findings, the researchers said the plant extract has “potential to prevent disease and virus spread in persons recently exposed to SARS-CoV-2, as well as to prevent severe disease in persons at high risk.” But it’s a far cry from test tube to human, one expert wisely cautioned.
“This is an understatement: Care must be taken when inferring potential therapeutic benefits from in vitro antiviral effects,” Harlan Krumholz, MD, cardiologist and director, Yale New Haven Hospital Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, New Haven, Connecticut, told Medscape Medical News. “There is a chasm between a single in vitro study and any use in humans outside of a protocol. People should be cautioned about that distance and the need [to] avoid such remedies unless part of a credible research project,” said Krumholz.
Yet, Lindell told Axios that, in the Oval Office meeting, Trump expressed enthusiasm for the Food and Drug Administration to allow oleandrin to be marketed as a dietary supplement or approved for COVID-19.
“This is really just nonsense and a distraction,” Jonathan Reiner, MD, of George Washington University Medical Center, Washington, DC, said on CNN.
Recently the FDA again rejected Oleandrin as a Dietary Supplement. As noted, this drug was recommended to former president Trump as a Covid-19 cure. Sadly, Ben Carson, former housing secretary, said he took Oleandrin after hearing about it from MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, who is on the board of Phoenix Biotechnology, the company that manufactures the supplement and according to multiple reports Lindell possesses a financial stake. Carson said his “coronavirus symptoms disappeared” within hours of taking the supplement. To this, I would simply add that perhaps Carson is in more need of brain treatments, prior to a return to his former job as brain surgeon! Perhaps Trump should have first tried Oleandrin himself before any release to an unsuspecting public. After all, Trump was apparently willing to try another useless, and potentially toxic product, hydroxychloroquine for the same purpose! As an added benefit, this might have spared the taxpayers from the expenses resulting from a second impeachment!
I am shocked and dismayed that oleander extract is still available for purchase at various websites; It is another of the many examples of “Snake Oil,” but this one is deadly; needless to say, STAY AWAY!