A concerning health threat has surfaced as dietary supplements promoted on TikTok as "natural" alternatives for weight loss drugs are discovered to contain a lethal plant species. The U.S. federal government has issued alarming warnings about these products, which falsely present themselves as herbal weight loss supplements but are actually comprised entirely of yellow oleander, a shrub so poisonous that it is often associated with self-harm in Sri Lanka.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken action against two manufacturers of diet nut mixes labeled as Nuez de la India, also known as candlenuts. This came after a man in Maryland was hospitalized due to yellow oleander poisoning linked to one of these products. In parallel, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that nine out of ten products labeled as tejocote root, marketed as weight loss supplements, were in fact pure yellow oleander. This discovery followed an incident where a toddler in New Jersey consumed his mother's Eva Nutrition Mexican Tejocote Root and suffered from poisoning.
The supplement industry operates in a regulatory environment that often enables manufacturers to bypass FDA oversight. Unlike pharmaceuticals, dietary supplement manufacturers are not required to prove in advance that their ingredients are safe and effective. This regulatory gap has created a Wild West scenario where consumers are at risk.
Yellow oleander, a deadly plant species, poses severe health risks when ingested. Symptoms of poisoning include nausea, slow heart rate, low blood pressure, and high blood levels of potassium. These symptoms can mimic a range of other health conditions, making it difficult for healthcare providers to diagnose poisoning without knowledge of supplement consumption.
In Maryland, emergency department doctors struggled to identify the cause of a patient's symptoms until poison control suggested yellow oleander poisoning. A similar case in Texas involved a 21-year-old woman who experienced severe nausea and vomiting after consuming a candlenut. She later developed heart block, a condition where electrical signals in the heart do not travel properly between chambers.
In New Jersey, a 23-month-old child presented with an abnormally low heart rate and low blood pressure, prompting an emergency physician to contact poison control. The child ultimately recovered after receiving an antibody antidote to combat yellow oleander poisoning.
The FDA issued specific warnings about certain products, including Nut Diet Max brand Nuez de la India capsules and seeds, as well as Todorganic Natural Products brand Nuez de la India seeds. The agency advised consumers to cease using these products immediately and seek medical advice if they had consumed them.
The CDC's investigation revealed that the majority of products marketed as tejocote root, a popular weight loss supplement touted on TikTok, were, in fact, yellow oleander. Misleading dietary supplements frequently contain hazardous substances, and consumers should exercise caution when purchasing such products. Tejocote root supplements are widely available from online retailers, including major platforms like Walmart and Amazon.