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Mulberry leaf: What are the dangers of using the herbal remedy?

Lori McClintock, the wife of California congressman Tom McClintock, died last year from adverse effects of an herbal remedy, according to a coroner’s report.

The herbal remedy – known as white mulberry leaf – is generally considered safe, and has been used as a natural treatment for a variety of conditions, including diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol.

Ms McClintock, 61, was found to have taken the white mulberry leaf before her death in December 2021, which caused an inflammation in her stomach and intestines. It’s unclear whether Ms McClintock took the white mulberry leaf via a supplement or by drinking the herbal remedy in a tea. However, a “partially intact” white mulberry leaf was found in her stomach, the report said.

What is white mulberry leaf and is it unsafe?

The mulberry leaf comes from a mulberry tree, which produces not only the nutritious leaves used in herbal remedies, but also flavourful berries rich in vitamins and minerals.

According to a study from the National Library of Medicine, the mulberry leaf does contain latex – a white sap mildly toxic to humans which may result in an upset stomach or skin irritation. However, many people still consume mulberry leaves without experiencing any adverse symptoms.

There are several potential health benefits of the mulberry leaf. The leaves have been found to contain vitamin C, zinc, calcium, iron and magnesium. Research also shows that the white mulberry leaf consists of a naturally occurring compound known as 1-deoxynojirimycin, or DNJ. This chemical is used to help combat cardiometabolic risks associated with type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Some studies suggest that ingesting white mulberry leaf may improve heart health as well, by reducing cholesterol and lowering blood pressure level. One 2011 study tested the effects of mulberry by giving 23 people with high cholesterol 280 mg of mulberry leaf supplements three times per day. After the 12 weeks, their LDL cholesterol – or “bad” cholesterol – dropped by 5.6 per cent and their HDL (“good”) cholesterol increased by 19.7 per cent.

However, there are still some health risks involved when using mulberry leaf as an herbal remedy or natural treatment. There have only been a handful of human studies on the benefits of mulberry leaves, so more research is needed to fully determine its safety when taken over long periods of time.

Some people have also reported side effects such as mild diarrhea, dizziness, constipation or bloating. Mulberry tea extracts can induce weight loss by inhibiting the absorption of carbohydrates, but some studies resulted in the malabsorption of carbohydrates, which can interfere with how the body receives its nutrients.

Because of its effect on blood sugar, white mulberry should be also used with caution for individuals already on diabetes medications.