The wife of a Northern California congressman died late last year after taking a plant that is generally considered safe and is used as an herbal remedy for a variety of ailments.
The cause of death for the wife of a congressman was dehydration due to the effects of eating white mulberry leaf. The report, along with the autopsy report and an amended death certificate, was obtained by KHN in July.
She died as a result of an accident, according to the coroner's office. The cause of death was listed on the death certificate.
According to the coroner's report, Tom McClintock, a Republican who represents a district that spans multiple counties in northern and central California, found his wife unresponsive at their home in December of 2011. After voting in Congress the night before, he just returned from Washington, D.C.
The autopsy report states that a partially intact white mulberry leaf was found in her stomach, but it is not clear if she took a supplement containing white mulberry leaf, ate fresh or dried leaves, or drank a tea.
Both lawmakers and health care experts say that there needs to be more government scrutiny of the $54 billion industry of herbal remedies.
Many people assume that if a product is sold in the US it must be safe. "Unfortunately, that's not always true", U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin said on the Senate floor.
The CEO of the Natural Products Association questioned if the death was related to a supplement.
It is totally speculative. It is a science to this. Fabricant, who oversaw supplements at the FDA, said that it wasn't just what a coroner felt. There are a lot of different reasons for people passing from dehydration.
The FDA could have launched an investigation if the Coroner or the family had reported her death.
It is not known if anyone reported her death to the agency. The FDA doesn't talk about possible or ongoing investigations.
The FDA has a system in place to investigate deaths that may be linked to supplements or drugs. He said it was case work. Old fashioned police work needs to be done.
Tom McClintock didn't talk about his wife's death after he released a statement on December 19th. The cause of death hadn't been reported.
The man who was contacted multiple times by phone and email Wednesday was not available for comment.
He told mourners at his wife's funeral that she was fine the day before he came back. He said that she had told a friend that she was on a roll at a new job in a real estate office and that she was careful with her diet.
He said she joined a gym. It would have been the best family Christmas ever if she had been at home.
She had a complaint of an upset stomach the day before she died.
The law doesn't allow the coroner's office to discuss many details of specific cases, according to a spokeswoman for the county. She said that the office tries to locate and review medical records and speak to family and witnesses to establish events leading up to and around a death.
If any medications or supplements are found at the scene or in the person's medical records, those are passed along to the pathologist to help establish cause of death.
She said that any information obtained from medical records can't be passed on to a third party.
For hundreds of years, the leaves and fruit of the white mulberry tree have been used in traditional Chinese medicine. Academic studies have shown that the extract from the leaves can help with weight loss. It can be taken in capsule or pill form. The leaves can be used as tea.
It seems unusual for McClintock to react that way. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there have been no deaths from the white mulberry plant in the last decade.
Almost 150 cases of white mulberry plant ingestion have been reported to poison control officials in the last three years, most involving accidental ingestion by children under the age of 12. She said that only one case required follow up.
While poison control centers watch for exposure to the white mulberry plant, the FDA watches supplements that contain white mulberry leaf extract. Two cases of people getting sick from taking mulberry supplements have been reported to the FDA. Voluntary reports from health care professionals and consumers are very important. One of those cases ended up in the hospital.
Research shows that white mulberry leaf can have side effects. According to three pathologists who reviewed the coroner's documents, McClintock's body was found to have elevated levels of nitrogen, sodium, and creatinine, all signs of dehydration.
White mulberry leaves are known to cause dehydration and can be used to help people lose weight.
The FDA regulates the use of vitamins, herbs, and minerals in supplements. They aren't tested for safety like prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines because they are classified as food.
Lawmakers aren't proposing to put supplements into the same category as pharmaceuticals, but they are alarmed that neither the FDA nor the industry knows how many supplements are out there
80% of Americans use supplement products, according to industry surveys, and 40,000 to 80,000 products are on the market in the U.S.
The Council for Responsible Nutrition supports provisions in the legislation that would require manufacturers to register with the FDA and give a public list of ingredients.
The council is opposed to a provision that would require supplement makers to give consumers the ingredient amounts in their products, something they say is akin to giving a recipe to competitors. Megan Olsen is the group's senior vice president and general counsel.
The FDA inspects and regulates supplement manufacturers just like other food companies. The agency must be informed about any adverse effects reported by consumers.
Companies are testing products throughout the process and looking at how they're being manufactured and what's going into them The FDA regulates all of that.
The Senate health committee bill that reauthorizes FDA programs was rolled into the larger Senate bill. The Natural Products Association does not agree with the provisions of theDietary Supplement Act.
Because supplements are regulated as food products, they can't be advertised as cures or treatments. They can say how the supplements affect the body. A bottle of white mulberry leaf extract is advertised by some supplement makers as a natural remedy that can lower blood sugar levels and promote weight loss.
During the Pandemic, people sought to boost their immune systems and fend off covid-19, which made those kinds of claims appealing to Americans.
Everyone can be affected by supplements in different ways. The FDA says that mixing supplements and medicines can make the problem worse.
A lot of people are wondering if it is a plant. It's just a vitamins. It means that it won't hurt me. There is always a risk for taking something.
It's not clear why a person is taking a leaf. She had wrapped her Christmas presents under the tree in mid-December and was a happy woman who loved her family and her work. She was going to purchase a recreational vehicle with her husband.
Tom McClintock said that they grieve the loss because of all the things she was looking forward to. We grieve because we have all lost a good person.
The California Healthline is an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.