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VERIFY: Oleandrin is not an approved treatment for COVID-19

A therapeutic drug that is an extract of the oleander plant is being touted as a cure for COVID-19, but the evidence is lacking.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The therapeutic drug oleandrin is being discussed in the media after multiple claims that it could be used to treat or prevent COVID-19.

Supporters like MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell say the drug is natural, safe and effective at stopping viruses like COVID-19. He’s worked with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson to propose the drug to President Donald Trump as well.

The VERIFY team did some research about this substance to understand the safety of its use.

THE QUESTION

Is oleandrin an approved treatment for COVID-19? Is there any evidence it can work?

THE ANSWER

Oleandrin is not an approved treatment for COVID-19 and, right now, there are no peer-reviewed studies that show it has an effect on the virus. 

A preliminary study was published that showed positive results when oleandrin was applied to monkey kidney cells, but there have been no tests on human COVID-19 cases.

WHAT WE FOUND

Oleandrin is an extract from the oleander plant. The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center explains in its website that it contains substances similar to the active chemical found in the heart medication digoxin. In laboratory experiments, oleandrin proved to affect growth and cause cell death in certain cancer cell lines.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, oleander is a poisonous substance. Poisoning occurs when a person or animal eats or chews the flowers, leaves or stems of the oleander plant (Nerium Oleander) and can have symptoms including irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, vision impairment and other conditions that could result in death.

Oleandrin is an extract of the plant, but the National Library of Medicine does list it as a “poisonous ingredient” as well. 

In July, researchers at the University of Texas in Galveston tested Oleandrin on kidney cells of monkeys infected with COVID-19 and found that it “inhibited replication by up to 3,000 fold.” But these effects haven’t been tried in the human body and that study has yet to be peer-reviewed.

There are also “competing interests” listed in the study. Two of the researchers receive payment from Phoenix Biotechnology,INC, a company that produces a patented strain of oleandrin. Additionally, Phoenix Biotechnology,INC recently added MyPillow's Lindell to its Board of Directors. 

BOTTOM LINE

Oleandrin is not an approved COVID-19 treatment. The research and people pushing for its use have financial ties to the company producing it and medical experts warn that it can be toxic if improperly used. 

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