The term "oleander" refers to two plant species, Nerium oleander (common oleander) and Thevetia peruviana (yellow oleander), which grow in temperate climates throughout the world. Both species contain chemicals called "cardiac glycosides" that have effects similar to the heart drug digoxin. Both species can be toxic when taken by mouth with many documented reports of deaths.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Laboratory studies of oleander suggest possible anti-cancer effects, although reliable research in humans is not currently available. There are reports that long-term use of oleander may have positive effects in patients with leiomyosarcoma, Ewing's sarcoma, prostate cancer, or breast cancer. More research is needed before a recommendation can be made.
The term "oleander" refers to two plants: Nerium oleander (common oleander) and Thevetia peruviana (yellow oleander). Both plants contain heart-active "cardiac glycoside" chemicals (similar to the prescription drug digoxin) and have been associated with serious side effects in humans, including death. The plants have been used to treat heart failure in China and Russia for decades, but scientific evidence supporting use is limited to small, poorly designed studies. Human research began in the 1930s, but was largely abandoned due to serious gastrointestinal and heart toxicity.
It should be noted that the drug digoxin may improve symptoms of congestive heart failure, but does not improve mortality (length of life).
* Key to grades
A: Strong scientific evidence for this use B: Good scientific evidence for this use C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use D: Fair scientific evidence for this use (it may not work) F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likley does not work)
Tradition / Theory
The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.
Safety has not been established for any dose of oleander. Peruvoside, a heart-active substance in yellow oleander kernels (similar to the drug digoxin), has been studied at 1.8 to 3.2 milligrams by mouth, as an initial dose, followed by an average daily dose of 0.6 milligrams per day for congestive heart failure.
Children (younger than 18 years)
Oleander is not recommended for use in children due to risk of toxicity or death and lack of scientific data.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.
People with allergy/hypersensitivity to oleander or other cardiac glycosides such as digoxin or digitoxin may have reactions to oleander. Skin contact with sap from oleander leaves may cause rash.
Side Effects and Warnings
Common oleander contains a strychnine-like toxin and a heart-active cardiac glycoside substance (similar to the prescription drug digoxin) that may cause the heart to beat rapidly, abnormally, or to stop beating. Common oleander has been used as rat poison, insecticide, and fish poison and is toxic to mammals including humans. Animals (sheep) have died after eating as little as two to three leaves of Nerium oleander (common oleander). Children may die after eating a single leaf of common oleander. Eating the leaves, flowers, or bark of common oleander may cause nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, pain, fatigue, drowsiness, unsteadiness, bloody diarrhea, abnormal heart rhythms, seizures, liver or kidney damage, or unconsciousness. Death may occur within one day. Reports of toxicity and deaths in children and adults have been reported for decades in Australia, India, Sri Lanka, and the United States.
Fruits of Thevetin peruviana (yellow oleander) are thought to be even more toxic to mammals, including humans. Based on human studies of intentional overdose (suicide attempts), eating eight or more seeds of yellow oleander may be fatal. Additional side effects of oleander ingestion include irritation and redness of lips, gums, and tongue, nausea, vomiting, depression, irritability, fast breathing, sweating, stomach pain, diarrhea, headache, confusion, visual disturbances, and constricted pupils. Abnormal blood tests, including tests of liver and kidney function (potassium, bilirubin, creatinine, and blood urea), have been reported in humans.
It is possible that plants grown in the same soil as oleander plants or in soil exposed to oleander may contain trace amounts of oleander.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Oleander is toxic and should be avoided by pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Based on animal and human studies, common oleander and yellow oleander contain cardiac glycoside heart-active substances similar to the drug digoxin. There may be an increased risk of unwanted side effects or damage to the heart if taken with other heart-active drugs, such as digoxin (Lanoxin®) or anti-arrhythmics.
Because oleander is similar to the drug digoxin, it may share some of the same interactions, although this has not been thoroughly studied.
Low potassium levels in the blood may increase the dangerous side effects of oleander. Therefore, oleander should be used cautiously with drugs that may lower potassium levels, such as laxatives or some diuretics (drugs that increase urine flow).
Oleander may interact with abortifacients, antibiotics, antidepressants, blood pressure-lowering drugs, antineoplastics, contraceptives, hormonal drugs, immunosuppressants, and neurologic drugs.
Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements
Common oleander and yellow oleander contain cardiac glycoside heart-active substances and interact with other herbs or supplements with similar effects such as hawthorn. Notably, bufalin/Chan Suis is a Chinese herbal formula that has been reported as toxic or fatal when taken with cardiac glycosides.
Toxic effects of oleander on the heart may be increased if used with calcium supplements or herbs that lower potassium levels, such as licorice. Potassium levels theoretically may be reduced by herbs and supplements with laxative properties such as senna or psyllium or herbs and supplements with diuretic properties (increasing urine flow) such as artichoke, celery, or dandelion.
Oleander may interact with abortifacients, antibiotics, antidepressants, blood pressure-lowering herbs and supplements, antineoplastics, contraceptives, hormonal herbs and supplements, immunosuppressants, and neurologic herbs and supplements.
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The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.