Purported Benefits, Side Effects & More


Purported Benefits, Side Effects & More

Common Names

  • Rose laurel
  • Adelfa
  • Rosenlorbeer
  • Karavira

For Patients & Caregivers

Tell your healthcare providers about any dietary supplements you’re taking, such as herbs, vitamins, minerals, and natural or home remedies. This will help them manage your care and keep you safe.

What is it?

Oleandrin is an extract from a plant that is considered toxic, and studies in humans are lacking.

Oleandrin is an extract from the plant, Nerium oleander. This shrub is native to northern Africa, the eastern Mediterranean basin, and Southeast Asia and although it looks appealing, is considered toxic. It contains substances that are similar to the active chemical found in the heart medication, digoxin. Lab studies suggest that some products being tested may suppress cancer cell growth or make them more sensitive to treatment. However, it is unclear whether these effects can occur in the human body.

What are the potential uses and benefits?
  • To treat cancer

    Lab studies show some anticancer activity in cancer cell lines, but clinical trials to evaluate the anticancer activities of oleandrin in humans are lacking. 

    Scientific evidence is lacking to support the following claims:
  • To treat congestive heart failure
  • To treat hepatitis C
  • To treat AIDS
  • To treat COVID-19
What are the side effects?
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Itching
  • Pain at injection site
  • Tumor pain
  • Breast pain
  • Abnormally high white blood cell counts
  • Abnormally fast and irregular heart rate

Case Reports

  • Death of an adult diabetic man: Due to consumption of oleander leaves.
  • Death suspected from daily intramuscular injections: In a 43-year-old cancer patient, who used intramuscular injections of Nerium oleander extract for 2 months.
  • Accidental poisoning: In a woman who attempted to self-medicate for thyroid disease.
What else do I need to know?

Patient Warnings:

  • The raw plant from which Anvirzelis extracted, Nerium oleander, is highly toxic. Consumption of this botanical may be fatal.
  • Onset of toxicity occurs several hours after consumption and includes vomiting, abdominal pain, bluish skin discoloration, low blood pressure, low body temperature, dizziness, respiratory paralysis, and death.

Do Not Take if:

These products are not approved treatments in the United States and should not be used outside of clinical trials.

  • You are taking digoxin: These products contain cardiac glycosides, the same active chemical in digoxin, so the two medications may have additive effects, causing toxicity.
  • You are taking P-glycoprotein (P-gp) substrate drugs: Oleander leaf extract may increase the blood levels of these drugs.
  • You have high blood levels of calcium
  • You have low blood levels of potassium
  • You have an abnormally slow or fast heart rate
  • You have heart failure: These products contain cardiac glycosides, the same active chemical in digoxin, and are therefore contraindicated in people with these conditions.

Special Point:

A few products are being studied, but have not been approved for use. Until larger well-designed studies are published that demonstrate these products are effective and safe, they should not be used outside of clinical trials.

For Healthcare Professionals

Brand Name
Scientific Name
Nerium oleander
Clinical Summary

Nerium oleander is an ornamental shrub native to northern Africa, the eastern Mediterranean basin, and Southeast Asia. It is used in traditional medicine to treat hemorrhoids, ulcers, leprosy, and as an abortifacient. The plant is poisonous because of oleandrin, a cardiac glycoside with structure and actions similar to those of digoxin, and both exert their effects by inhibiting membrane enzyme Na+, K+ -ATPase (1).

Most studies have focused on the anticancer activities of oleandrin because of its apoptotic effects in various cancer cell lines (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8). It also increases sensitivity of PC-3 human prostate cells to radiotherapy (9) and reduces gentamycin toxicity (10). A study in glioma models suggest potential activity (27). In other studies, oleandrin demonstrated neuroprotective activity (11) and reduced infectivity of the HIV virus (24).

A hot water extract of the plant, known as Anvirzel™, has been developed as a potential treatment for cancer, AIDS, and congestive heart failure. It consists of a mixture of oleandrin and the glycone oleandrigenin. Preclinical experiments suggest that a combination of Anvirzel and cisplatin may be more effective than cisplatin monotherapy (28).

Studies in humans are quite limited. In one small study, Anvirzel appeared safe in humans when injected intramuscularly, although adverse effects such as injection site pain, fatigue, and GI symptoms were reported (12). In a small study in patients with advanced cancers, an oral N. oleander extract was well tolerated (29) but did not meet the primary endpoint of overall survival in patients with metastatic pancreatic adenocarcinoma (30). These treatments are still being studied and are not approved for cancer treatment in the United States. Until more data on efficacy and toxicity are available, these products should not be used outside of clinical trials.

Current scientific evidence is lacking to support the use of oleandrin products for any condition, including congestive heart failure, hepatitis C, AIDS, or COVID-19.

Purported Uses and Benefits
  • Cancer
  • Heart failure
  • Hepatitis
  • AIDS
Mechanism of Action

Oleandrin may slow tumor growth by inhibiting the membrane enzyme Na+, K+ -ATPase (1), especially in cells that have higher ratios of alpha 3 to alpha 1 isoform expression (13). It improves cellular export of fibroblast growth factor-2 (4). Oleandrin also induces apoptosis through NF-kB suppression (2) (15). It selectively sensitized lung cancer cells to apoptosis-inducing ligand Apo2L/TRAIL via DR4/5 upregulation at both RNA and protein levels (16). Other proposed mechanisms include formation of superoxide radicals that cause tumor cell injury via mitochondrial disruption (7), IL-8 inhibition that mediates tumorigenesis (17), caspase-3 activation (9), induction of tumor cell autophagy (6), and P-gp inhibition (8). More recently, PBI-05204, an extract of N. oleander, inhibited pancreatic tumor proliferation partly via downregulation of PI3k/Akt and mTOR pathways (26).

  • The Nerium oleander plant is highly toxic.
  • Patients with hypercalcemia, hypokalemia, bradycardia, ventricular tachycardia, or heart failure should not use these products  (12).
  • These products should not be used outside of clinical trials.
Adverse Reactions
  • Common (Raw botanical)
    Consumption of Nerium oleander can be fatal (25). Onset of toxicity: Several hours after consumption. Symptoms include vomiting, abdominal pain, cyanosis, hypotension, hypothermia, vertigo, respiratory paralysis, and death. Can occur at serum oleandrin levels between 1.0 and 2.0 ng/mL (19).
  • With Anvirzel™: Pain at injection site, fatigue, transient erythema, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (12).
  • With oral PBI-05204 extract: Fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, arrhythmia, and decreased appetite (29) (30)

Case Reports

  • Death of an adult diabetic man: Due to consumption of oleander leaves. Oleandrin levels in the blood were roughly 10 ng/mL (20).
  • Death suspected from daily intramuscular injections: In a 43-year-old patient with metastatic synovial sarcoma of the knee who used daily intramuscular injections of Nerium oleander extract for 2 months. Symptoms included nausea, vomiting, severe stomach pain and bloating followed by a gradual reduction in liver enzymes and cardiopulmonary arrest (21).
  • Accidental poisoning: In a woman who attempted to self-medicate for thyroid disease (14).
  • Fatal arrhythmia: In a 71-year-old male due to ingestion of an oleander leaf infusion (31).
Herb-Drug Interactions
  • Digoxin: Theoretically, cardiac glycosides in Nerium oleander may have an additive effect with digoxin, causing toxicity.
  • P-glycoprotein (P-gp) substrates: Oleander leaf extract inhibits P-gp and may increase the blood levels of substrate drugs. (8)
Herb Lab Interactions

Digoxin and digitoxin immunoassays: Oleandrin is structurally similar to digoxin and digitoxin, and is known to cross-react in various immunoassays (22) (23).

  1. Lin Y, Ho DH, Newman RA. Human tumor cell sensitivity to oleandrin is dependent on relative expression of Na+, K+ -ATPase subunitst. J Exp Ther Oncol. 2010;8(4):271-286.
  2. Manna SK, Sah NK, Newman RA, et al. Oleandrin suppresses activation of nuclear transcription factor-kappaB, activator protein-1, and c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase. Cancer Res. Jul 15 2000;60(14):3838-3847.
  3. Pathak S, Multani AS, Narayan S, et al. Anvirzel, an extract of Nerium oleander, induces cell death in human but not murine cancer cells. Anticancer Drugs. Jul 2000;11(6):455-463.
  4. Smith JA, Madden T, Vijjeswarapu M, et al. Inhibition of export of fibroblast growth factor-2 (FGF-2) from the prostate cancer cell lines PC3 and DU145 by Anvirzel and its cardiac glycoside component, oleandrin. Biochemical pharmacology. Aug 15 2001;62(4):469-472.
  5. Felth J, Rickardson L, Rosen J, et al. Cytotoxic effects of cardiac glycosides in colon cancer cells, alone and in combination with standard chemotherapeutic drugs. J Nat Prod. Nov 2009;72(11):1969-1974.
  6. Newman RA, Kondo Y, Yokoyama T, et al. Autophagic cell death of human pancreatic tumor cells mediated by oleandrin, a lipid-soluble cardiac glycoside. Integr Cancer Ther. Dec 2007;6(4):354-364.
  7. Newman RA, Yang P, Hittelman WN, et al. Oleandrin-mediated oxidative stress in human melanoma cells. J Exp Ther Oncol 2006;5(3):167-181.
  8. Turan N, Akgun-Dar K, Kuruca SE, et al. Cytotoxic effects of leaf, stem and root extracts of Nerium oleander on leukemia cell lines and role of the p-glycoprotein in this effect. J Exp Ther Oncol 2006;6(1):31-38.
  9. Nasu S, Milas L, Kawabe S, et al. Enhancement of radiotherapy by oleandrin is a caspase-3 dependent process. Cancer Lett. Nov 28 2002;185(2):145-151.
  10. Emanuele E, Olivieri V, Aldeghi A, et al. Topical administration of oleandrin could protect against gentamicin ototoxicity via inhibition of activator protein-1 and c-Jun N-terminal kinase. Med Hypotheses. 2007;68(3):711.
  11. Dunn DE, He DN, Yang P, et al. In vitro and in vivo neuroprotective activity of the cardiac glycoside oleandrin from Nerium oleander in brain slice-based stroke models. J Neurochem. Nov 2011;119(4):805-814.
  12. Mekhail T, Kaur H, Ganapathi R, et al. Phase 1 trial of Anvirzel in patients with refractory solid tumors. Invest New Drugs. Sep 2006;24(5):423-427.
  13. Yang P, Menter DG, Cartwright C, et al. Oleandrin-mediated inhibition of human tumor cell proliferation: importance of Na,K-ATPase alpha subunits as drug targets. Mol Cancer Ther. Aug 2009;8(8):2319-2328.
  14. Bavunoglu I, Balta M, Turkmen Z. Oleander Poisoning as an Example of Self-Medication Attempt. Balkan Med J. Sep 2016;33(5):559-562.
  15. Afaq F, Saleem M, Aziz MH, et al. Inhibition of 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate-induced tumor promotion markers in CD-1 mouse skin by oleandrin. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. Mar 15 2004;195(3):361-369.
  16. Frese S, Frese-Schaper M, Andres AC, et al. Cardiac glycosides initiate Apo2L/TRAIL-induced apoptosis in non-small cell lung cancer cells by up-regulation of death receptors 4 and 5. Cancer Res. Jun 1 2006;66(11):5867-5874.
  17. Manna SK, Sreenivasan Y, Sarkar A. Cardiac glycoside inhibits IL-8-induced biological responses by downregulating IL-8 receptors through altering membrane fluidity. J Cell Physiol. Apr 2006;207(1):195-207.
  18. Ni D, Madden TL, Johansen M, et al. Murine pharmacokinetics and metabolism of oleandrin, a cytotoxic component of Nerium oleander. J Exp Ther Oncol Sep-Oct 2002;2(5):278-285.
  19. Pietsch J, Oertel R, Trautmann S, et al. A non-fatal oleander poisoning. Int J Legal Med. Jul 2005;119(4):236-240.
  20. Wasfi IA, Zorob O, Al katheeri NA, et al. A fatal case of oleandrin poisoning. Forensic Sci Int. Aug 6 2008;179(2-3):e31-36.
  21. Altan E, Bitik B, Kalpakci Y, et al. Probable hepatotoxicity related to Nerium oleander extract in a patient with metastatic synovial sarcoma of the knee. J Altern Complement Med. Feb 2009;15(2):113.
  22. Datta P, Dasgupta A. Interference of oleandrin and oleandrigenin in digitoxin immunoassays: minimal cross reactivity with a new monoclonal chemiluminescent assay and high cross reactivity with the fluorescence polarization assay. Ther Drug Monit. Aug 1997;19(4):465-469.
  23. Dasgupta A, Risin SA, Reyes M, et al. Rapid detection of oleander poisoning by Digoxin III, a new Digoxin assay: impact on serum Digoxin measurement. Am J Clin Pathol. Apr 2008;129(4):548-553.
  24. Singh S, Shenoy S, Nehete PN, et al. Nerium oleander derived cardiac glycoside oleandrin is a novel inhibitor of HIV infectivity. Fitoterapia. 2013 Jan;84:32-9.
  25. Papi L, Luciani AB, Forni D, Giusiani M. Unexpected double lethal oleander poisoning. Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2012 Mar;33(1):93-7.
  26. Pan Y, Rhea P, Tan L, et al. PBI-05204, a supercritical CO2 extract of Nerium oleander, inhibits growth of human pancreatic cancer via targeting the PI3K/mTOR pathway. Invest New Drugs. 2015 Apr;33(2):271-9.
  27. Garofalo S, Grimaldi A, Chece G, et al. The Glycoside Oleandrin Reduces Glioma Growth with Direct and Indirect Effects on Tumor Cells. J Neurosci. Apr 5 2017;37(14):3926-3939.
  28. Apostolou P, Toloudi M, Chatziioannou M, et al. Anvirzel in combination with cisplatin in breast, colon, lung, prostate, melanoma and pancreatic cancer cell lines. BMC Pharmacol Toxicol. Mar 25 2013;14:18.
  29. Hong DS, Henary H, Falchook GS, et al. First-in-human study of pbi-05204, an oleander-derived inhibitor of akt, fgf-2, nf-κΒ and p70s6k, in patients with advanced solid tumors. Invest New Drugs. Dec 2014;32(6):1204-1212.
  30. Roth MT, Cardin DB, Borazanci EH, et al. A Phase II, Single-Arm, Open-Label, Bayesian Adaptive Efficacy and Safety Study of PBI-05204 in Patients with Stage IV Metastatic Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma. Oncologist. 2020 Oct;25(10):e1446-e1450.
  31. Carfora A, Petrella R, Borriello R, et al. Fatal poisoning by ingestion of a self-prepared oleander leaf infusion. Forensic Sci Med Pathol. 2021 Mar;17(1):120-125.
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