New year, same problem: FDA issues tejocote root warning, finding the supplements adulterated with poisonous plant

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

© Om Rathore / Getty Images
© Om Rathore / Getty Images

Related tags Adulteration Oleander tejocote Food safety Food standards agency Food and drug administration

The supplements labeled as weight loss products appear to be mislabeled as testing revealed the tejocote root was substituted with a potentially deadly plant.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is raising concerns over weight loss supplements labeled “tejocote root​” that were found to contain a toxic plant. 

Tejocote (Crataegus mexicana​) root has been promoted for weight loss and is readily available from online retailers. However, FDA tested nine tejocote products and found them to contain yellow oleander (Cascabela thevetia​), a poisonous plant native to Mexico and Central America.

"In other words, the tested products are labeled as tejocote but are actually toxic yellow oleander," the Agency noted. 

Commenting independently, regulatory risk expert Asa Waldstein, principal at Supplement Advisory Group, urged brands to stay vigilant. 

"As dangerous adulterants are discovered, companies should anticipate FDA inquiries and update their ingredient testing specifications, similarly to how FDA expects to see American germander testing for skullcap," he said.

Readily available online 

In response to this increased FDA scrutiny, Waldstein said that it is paramount that companies selling tejocote implement proactive testing to ensure products are safe. 

"A quick web search shows these products are still for sale on platforms like Amazon and Etsy," he added. "After Amazon's three warning letters last year for selling non-compliant products, I hope the platform will react quickly by requiring third-party testing on all tejocote products in response to this safety issue. Also, if the products cited in the FDA letter are still for sale, this shows irresponsible commerce, which is a huge issue. We've seen Amazon 'overreact' to FDA statements about ingredients like NAC, so I'm unsure why removing dangerous products is a challenge."

Of the products FDA listed as including yellow oleander, five were purchased from Amazon, two from Etsy, one from Innovacionnatural.com and another from alipotecus.com. 

NutraIngredients-USA contacted Amazon for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication. 

If ingested, yellow oleander can cause adverse neurologic, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular health effects that may be severe or even fatal. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, abdominal pain, cardiac changes, dysrhythmia and more.

The agency urged people who have taken the products to contact their health care provider immediately–even if the products have not been recently used.

Products found to include yellow oleander

Amazon.com:

  • Alipotec Tejocote Root
  • Nutraholics ELV Tejocote Root
  • ELV Nutraholics Mexican Tejocote Root
  • ELVPOTEC Tejocote Root
  • Tejocotex

Etsy.com:

  • Science of Alpha Mexican Tejocote Root
  • Niwali Raiz de Tejocote

Innovacionnatural.com:

  • Alipotec Tejocote Root

Alipotecus.com:

  • ELV Alipotec Raiz de Tejocote

An ongoing problem 

In December 2022, medical and analytical experts from the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System (NJPIES) at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and Flora Research Laboratories purchased and analyzed 10 products labeled as tejocote that were marketed as weight loss supplements. 

The data, published in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report​, found that none of the products contained any tejocote root at all, and nine out of the 10 actually contained yellow oleander​. 

"For public health officials, this is concerning because these supplements contain a highly toxic substance and are readily available from multiple retailers," the researchers noted. "Future prevention efforts need to include reporting products such as these to FDA and alerting retailers who might be unknowingly selling these hazardous products."

James Kababick, director of Flora Research Laboratories, LLC, and one of the co-authors on the CDC report, said that he is glad the FDA is taking action.

"This is a very serious issue and yellow oleander is very toxic," he said. "I am pleased that FDA was alerted through our work to do their own investigation and take regulatory action. I was very alarmed that despite the media coverage and high-profile publication, these products remained on Amazon’s site for months."

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