Despite little evidence supporting it, the unassuming white mulberry leaf is often used by some to control diabetes and weight, along with other ailments. Now, this supplement has been linked to the death of Lori McClintock, 61 – the wife of US Rep. Tom McClintock – as reported by Kaiser Health News, who obtained the amended death certificate, coroner documents, and autopsy report.
On December 15, 2021, Tom McClintock returned home from Washington, D.C., after voting in Congress the night before. There he found his wife unresponsive in their California home.
At the funeral, Tom McClintock reported that she was fine the day before and that “she was on roll”, as she had started dieting and joined a gym, all while being excited and preparing for Christmas, according to KHN. Although, it was noted in the coroner’s report that the day before her death there were “complaints of an upset stomach”.
The autopsy report described a “partially intact” white mulberry leaf in her stomach. It is unclear whether Lori McClintock ate fresh or dried leaves or consumed them as tea. In a report from the Sacramento County coroner (dated March 10, but not immediately released to the public), the death was caused by dehydration due to gastroenteritis. This dehydration was the result of the “adverse effects of white mulberry leaf ingestion”.
The coroner’s documents also reported high levels of sodium, nitrogen, and creatinine in Lori McClintock’s body, and multiple independent pathologists confirmed to KHN that these levels are signs of dehydration.
However, there are some doubts as to whether white mulberry leaves were the cause of death. Specifically from Daniel Fabricant, CEO and president of the Natural Product Association – which represents the dietary supplement industry.
“It’s completely speculative. There’s a science to this. It’s not just what a coroner feels,” Fabricant told KHN. “People unfortunately pass from dehydration every day, and there’s a lot of different reasons and a lot of different causes.”
So, how worried should we be about white mulberry fruit and leaves?
One past study (on very limited people, n=23) used mulberry leaf tablets to reduce cholesterol. This study showed positive results, but there were a few side effects, such as bloating (4 percent), dizziness (9 percent), and mild diarrhea (26 percent).
As for ingesting plant itself, in the past 10 years, the American Association of Poison Control Centers has not received any reported deaths. In the past decade, there have been 148 cases of this plants ingestion (mostly in children) with one case requiring a medical follow-up.
However, when it comes to the supplement, only two cases of people of people becoming ill have been reported to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), since 2004, with one case requiring hospitalization.
Overall, the reaction that Lori McClintock had does seem to be unusual and the levels of dehydration do seem to be excessive. It does, however, highlight the need for people to be careful of what herbal remedies are put in their bodies. Especially as supplements are regulated by the FDA, but as they are classified as food, they tend not to undergo the same level of scrutiny as over-the-counter medicines and prescription drugs.
In April, Senators Richard Durbin and Mike Braun both introduced bipartisan legislation that will require supplement companies to register their products to the FDA – currently companies do not need to notify the FDA about new supplementary products.