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Online-Purchased Tejocote Supplements May Contain Poisonous Plant

Wooden spoons containing powders of different colors.
Credit: Emma-Jane Hobden/Unsplash
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The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a new warning after the analysis of 10 online-purchased tejocote supplements – promoted by some on social media for weight loss – revealed that 9 instead contained yellow oleander, a highly toxic plant.

FDA warning of adulterated supplements

Over 50% of US adults report taking dietary supplements, fueling a $35 billion supplement industry that is largely unregulated. Previous FDA warnings have described numerous supplements that could contain undeclared and unapproved ingredients.

Tejocote root (Crategus mexicana) supplements are under the spotlight for this very reason. Tejocote has been promoted on social media with claims that it can help with weight loss – though there is no scientific evidence to back this up. The FDA recently identified several online-purchased products marketed as tejocote root that instead contain material from the toxic plant yellow oleander (Cascabela thevetia).

Yellow oleander is native to Mexico and Central and South America and is sometimes used in landscaping for its dense foliage and bright yellow flowers produced in summer and fall. But it comes with hidden dangers, as all parts of the plant – including the leaves and seeds – are poisonous if ingested.

“Ingestion of yellow oleander can cause neurologic, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular adverse health effects that may be severe, or even fatal,” explained the FDA in its warning.

Some tejocote root supplements instead contain yellow oleander

In 2022, a report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) raised concerns surrounding tejocote root supplements after some were accidentally consumed by a 23-month-old toddler, resulting in nausea, vomiting, slow heart rate and low blood pressure.

The CDC subsequently tested a selection of tejocote supplement products purchased through Amazon, Etsy and various online supplement retailers. Of the 10 products tested, 9 were found to contain yellow oleander instead, with no evidence of the presence of tejocote root.

The CDC’s report suggested that the “readily available dietary supplements, upon testing, appeared to be mislabeled.”

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Additional testing of the 9 affected products by the FDA also confirmed the presence of yellow oleander. The FDA remains concerned that other products marketed as tejocote – which also goes by Mexican hawthorn root and Raiz de Tejocote – could also contain yellow oleander.

Unfortunately, these kinds of problems are not unheard of for dietary supplements. Between 2007 and 2016, the FDA identified 776 examples of adulterated supplements across 146 different companies, with around 20% of products tested containing more than one unapproved ingredient.

In the case of tejocote root supplements, FDA also recommends discontinuing the use of any identified products of concern as well as their disposal, and that people should contact their healthcare provider if they have used them previously.