Oleander extract for COVID-19 – another moronic and useless treatment

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And here we go again – President Donald Trump is pushing oleander extract as the new miracle cure or prevention for COVID-19. This is right up there with the hydroxychloroquine nonsense he was (and I suppose still) pushing earlier in the pandemic.

So instead of listening to his scientists, public health experts, and anyone else with functioning neurons, Trump pushes these useless treatments instead of actually focusing on leading the country to fight this coronavirus pandemic. It is his fault that nearly 180,000 Americans are dead, but he prefers to push this quackery because it is so much easier to do than the actual work of managing a historic pandemic.

I hope this article will be short because there really isn’t much to say since there is no legitimate evidence that oleander extract works on any disease, let alone COVID-19. But this old feathered dinosaur is here to provide science with an extract of snark, just so you be assured that your best hope for preventing COVID-19 is a vaccine.

Where did this oleander extra idea come from?

In a report in Axios, President Trump expressed his support for oleandrin, a botanical made from the poisonous oleander plant, during a July meeting attended by MyPillow dot com founder and CEO Mike Lindell along with Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, who happens to be an MD, though he has had close relationships with unethical supplement manufacturers in the past.

Lindell, who shows up in late-night infomercials touting his pillows has a partial stake in Phoenix Biotechnology, a company with a lame website that seems to be pushing oleandrin. They are not a real biotechnology company that is trying to develop novel drugs that go through real clinical trials to get regulatory approval. 

However, according to Axios, Trump says that it should be approved by the FDA. But, they reported that:

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, MD, has resisted any efforts around the compound, according to Axios, but Phoenix Biotechnology director Andrew Whitney has said if he can’t get oleandrin to market as a drug, he’ll push for it as a dietary supplement.

Before we get to the medical communities’ response to oleander extract to treat coronavirus, let’s take a quick look at oleander itself.

Oleander generally refers to three species of plants – the Nerium oleander, Nerium indicum, and Nerium odorum plants. What makes them so deadly?

All of the species of Nerium contain cardiac glycosides, which is a class of drugs that increase the output force of the heart muscle. The most potent of these compounds in Nerium are oleandrin, which is similar to one of the best-known cardiac glycosides, digoxin

Now, cardiac glycosides have an important role in treating some types of cardiovascular disease, but they can be very dangerous in higher doses. In fact, just a few leaves of an oleander plant can cause severe poisoning and death. 

And many physicians were appalled that this is recommended.

Let’s repeat that in case you don’t like reading Tweets – Dr. Jen Gunter says that “it’s easier to kill someone with oleandrin than with COVID-19.”

Juurlink focused on another case study that reported that a patient committed suicide using oleander leaves. That paper estimates toxic blood levels of oleandrin at 1 to 2 ng/ml and a fatal blood level of 9.8 to 10 ng/mL.

So far, there’s no published evidence that oleandrin can help patients with COVID-19. That’s just a few oleander leaves.

If it quacks like a duck…

Evidence for oleander extract 

There really isn’t any evidence that shows that oleander extract can treat or prevent COVID-19.

A recent study “published” in a preprint (I guess PubMed is now indexing preprints), tested oleandrin against SARS-CoV-2 in Vero cells. But as we all know, preclinical cell studies rarely (less than 1% of the time) end up having any important clinical value. Furthermore, one of the authors of the preprint is Robert Newman, chairman of Phoenix Biotechnology’s scientific advisory board. 

A recent study tested the compound against SARS-CoV-2 in Vero cells, but no animal or human data are available for this indication. That study was a preprint in bioRxiv and one of its authors, Robert Newman, is the chairman of the Phoenix Biotechnology scientific advisory board. No conflict of interest there. 


So what do we have here about the oleander extract, oleandrin, for treating COVID-19?

  1. There is no evidence that it can treat any virus, including the novel coronavirus. Yes, they have some in vitro studies, but those don’t tell us anything, because in vitro studies do not establish safety or effectiveness in humans. You could throw almost any compound in vitro, there’s a good chance it would kill viruses at some toxic level. 
  2. Oleandrin is dangerous. Period.

This is just another desperate attempt by an anti-science President to push some fake treatment that doesn’t work or may even kill people. I can imagine that someone will be pulling off the road (here in California, oleander is frequently planted in the medians of freeways) to much on a few leaves. And those people will die.

Trump does not understand that science takes time. It is hard to develop vaccines. It is hard to find drugs that may or may not work against COVID-19.

But oleander extract isn’t it. Don’t take it!!!!


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The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!