The congressman’s wife died after taking herbal remedies marketed for diabetes and

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The wife of a Northern California congressman died late last year after ingesting a plant generally considered safe and used as an herbal remedy for a variety of ailments, including diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol, KHN has learned.

Laurie McClintock, wife of U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, died of dehydration from gastroenteritis — an inflammation of the stomach and intestines — caused by “adverse effects of eating white mulberry leaves,” according to a report in the Sacramento County Corner. That was done on March 10 but was not immediately made public. KHN obtained that report — in addition to the autopsy report and an amended death certificate containing an updated cause of death — in July.

The coroner’s office ruled his death an accident. The original death certificate, dated December 20, 2021, listed the cause of death as “pending”.

Tom McClintock, a Republican who represents a district spanning multiple counties in northern and central California, found his 61-year-old wife unresponsive at their Elk Grove, Calif., home on Dec. 15, 2021, according to a coroner’s report. He had returned from Washington, DC after voting in Congress the night before.

It is not clear from the autopsy report whether Laurie McClintock took a dietary supplement containing white mulberry leaves, ate the leaves fresh or dried, or drank them in tea, but a “partially intact” white mulberry leaf was found in her stomach, according to the report. .

McClintock’s death underscores the risks of the huge, growing market for dietary supplements and herbal remedies, which has become a $54 billion industry in the United States — that both lawmakers and health care experts say needs more government scrutiny.

“Many people assume that if the product is sold in the US, someone has inspected it and it must be safe. Unfortunately, that’s not always true,” U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said on the Senate floor this spring as he introduced legislation to strengthen oversight of dietary supplements.

Daniel Fabricant, CEO and president of the Natural Products Association, which represents the dietary supplement industry, questioned whether McClintock’s death was related to a supplement.

“This is purely speculative. There is a science to it. It’s not just what a coroner feels,” said Fabricant, who oversaw dietary supplements at the FDA during the Obama administration. “People unfortunately pass from dehydration every day, and there are many different causes and many different causes.”

Fabricant said it would have been ideal if the coroner or the family had reported his death to the FDA so the agency could begin an investigation.

Such reports are voluntary, and it’s unclear whether anyone reported his death to the agency. FDA spokeswoman Courtney Rhodes said the agency does not discuss potential or ongoing investigations.

The FDA, the manufacturer added, has a system in place to investigate deaths that may be linked to a supplement or drug. “It’s casework,” he said. “It’s good, old-fashioned police work that needs to be done.”

Tom McClintock has remained mostly silent about his wife’s death since releasing a statement on December 19, 2021, announcing it and paying tribute to her at her funeral on January 4. The cause of death is not yet known.

Tom McClintock, reached multiple times Wednesday by phone and email, was not immediately available for comment.

At his wife’s funeral, McClintock told mourners she was fine when he spoke to her the day before he returned. He told a friend that “he was on a roll” at a new job he liked at a Sacramento real estate office, she said, and “he was dieting carefully.”

“He just joined a gym,” she said. “At home, she was counting down the days to Christmas, wrapping all the presents and making all the plans to make it the best family Christmas ever, and it would have been.”

According to the coroner’s report, however, the day before his death, “he complained of an upset stomach.”

Sacramento County spokeswoman Kim Nava said by email Wednesday that the law prohibits the coroner’s office from discussing many details of specific cases. As part of any death investigation, the office “attempts to locate and review medical records and speak with family/witnesses to establish the events leading up to and surrounding a death,” he said.

If any drugs or supplements are found at the scene or relevant information is found in the person’s medical records, they are sent to the pathologist to help determine the cause of death, Nava said.

“No information obtained from office medical records can be released to third parties without a court order,” he said.

The leaves and fruits of the white mulberry tree, native to China, have been used for centuries in traditional medicine. Academic studies over the past decade have shown that its leaf extract can lower blood sugar levels and aid in weight loss. People take it in capsule or pill form, as extract or powder. They can make the leaves as herbal tea.

Laurie McClintock’s response seems unusual. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, no deaths from white mulberry have been reported in the past 10 years.

Caitlin Brown, the association’s clinical managing director, said since 2012, 148 cases of white mulberry plant ingestion have been voluntarily reported to poison control officials nationally, most of which involved accidental ingestion by children 12 years of age and younger. Only one case required medical follow-up, he said.

While poison control centers track white mulberry exposures, the FDA oversees dietary supplements, such as products containing white mulberry leaf extract. Since 2004, two cases of people getting sick from mulberry supplements have been reported to the FDA, according to its database that tracks “adverse events.” It relies heavily on voluntary reporting from healthcare professionals and consumers. At least one of these cases has been hospitalized.

According to research, white mulberry leaves may have side effects including nausea and diarrhea. Independent lab tests ordered by the coroner’s office showed McClintock had elevated nitrogen, sodium and creatinine levels — all signs of dehydration, according to three pathologists who reviewed coroner’s documents, which KHN corrected to remove McClintock’s name.

White mulberry leaves “may cause dehydration, and part of its use may be to help someone lose weight, mostly through fluid loss, which in this case was excessive,” said Dr. D’Michel Dupre, a retired forensic pathologist and a South Carolina The former medical examiner who reviewed the documents.

Dietary supplements, which include a wide range of vitamins, herbs and minerals, are regulated by the FDA. However, they are classified as food and do not undergo the rigorous scientific and safety testing required by the government for prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs.

Lawmakers are not proposing to put supplements in the same category as pharmaceuticals, but some say they are concerned that neither the FDA nor the industry knows how many dietary supplements are out there — making it nearly impossible for the government to oversee them and punish bad actors.

The FDA estimates that there are 40,000 to 80,000 supplement products on the market in the United States, and industry surveys estimate that 80% of Americans use them.

Legislation by Durbin and U.S. Sen. Mike Brown (R-Ind.) would require manufacturers to register with the FDA and provide a public list of their products’ ingredients, two provisions supported by the Council for Responsible Nutrition, another industry group representing supplement manufacturers. .

But the council is lobbying against a provision that would require supplement makers to provide consumers with the amount — or mix — of ingredients in their products, which they say is tantamount to giving competitors a recipe. Megan Olsen, the group’s senior vice president and general counsel, said it’s proprietary information only government regulators should have access to.

Olsen explained that supplement manufacturers are regulated just like other food companies and are subject to strict labeling requirements and inspections by the FDA. They must notify the agency of any adverse effects reported by consumers or doctors.

“Companies are testing products throughout the process, reviewing how they’re being made and what’s going into them,” Olsen said. “All of these are overseen and directed by FDA regulations.”

The dietary supplement provisions were rolled into a larger Senate Health Committee bill that reauthorizes FDA programs, and senators are currently negotiating with the House of Representatives. The Natural Products Association opposes all dietary supplement prescriptions.

Because dietary pills, teas, and other supplements are regulated as food products, manufacturers cannot advertise them as treatments or cures for health problems. But they can make claims about how supplements affect the body. So anyone who wants to lose weight or control diabetes can get a bottle of white mulberry leaf extract because some supplement manufacturers advertise it as a natural remedy that can lower blood sugar levels and promote weight loss.

Those kinds of claims appealed to Americans and were especially strong during the pandemic, as people sought to boost their immune systems and fend off Covid-19, said Debbie Petitpain, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. .

But dietary supplements can be dangerous and don’t affect everyone the same. According to the FDA, mixing supplements and prescription drugs can compound the problem.

“I think a lot of people are thinking, ‘Oh, it’s a plant.’ Or, ‘Oh, it’s just a vitamin. Of course, that means it’s not going to hurt me,'” Petitpain said. “But there’s always a risk in taking anything.”

It is not clear why Laurie McClintock is taking white mulberry leaves. Friends and family gathered for her funeral described a vivacious, happy woman who loved her family and her work and had already wrapped Christmas presents under the tree by mid-December. She was planning to buy a recreational vehicle with her husband in retirement.

“We mourn the loss of what he looked forward to doing and for all the years to come,” Tom McClintock told mourners. “And we mourn something else, because we’ve all lost a really good person in our lives.”

This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, the editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

Related topics

Contact us Submit a story tip

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.