Experts question the role of white mulberry in the death of the Congressman’s wife.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Scientists, doctors, and pathologists are questioning the Sacramento County coroner’s conclusion that Lori McClintock’s death was linked to white mulberry, a plant that has been used as an herbal remedy for centuries. has been — and one called the Coroner’s Botanic Adviser. Not toxic” in a letter to his office.

McClintock, the wife of U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), died suddenly in December of dehydration due to gastroenteritis, an “adverse effect of ingestion of white mulberry leaves.” It happened because of For a report from the Sacramento County Coroner. The coroner ruled the death an accident.

But Sacramento County Coroner Kimberly Jenn has not explained — nor provided records that explain — why she determined that the white mulberry leaf caused the dehydration that killed McClintock, 61. Killed at the age of 10 years, fueled suspicions among various experts.

According to the autopsy report, a “partially intact” white mulberry leaf was found in Lori McClintock’s stomach. But in the documents the coroner’s office has released related to the case, there is no other reference to her using white mulberry leaves, supplements, extracts, powders — or any other way of eating the plant.

“It would literally cause bushel baskets of white mulberry leaves to have some kind of unpleasant effect. And yet, you don’t see anything fatal,” said Bill Gourley, of the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products. said the principal scientist of the research, which collaborates with academic, government and industry authorities to research and develop natural products.

Gourley, an expert on herbal and drug interactions, called white mulberry leaf — used for a number of ailments, including diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity — “perhaps one of the safest leaves in the world.” “Its safety track record is unsurpassed,” he said.

“I’m just scratching my head as to how in the world they could come to the conclusion that this lady, at least as far as we know, just died from drinking a mulberry leaf,” he said.

Dr. Mary Hardy, who founded the Integrative Medicine Clinic at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and researched the safety of some alternative medicines and therapies for the now-defunct UCLA Center for Dietary Supplements Research in Botanicals. Said the coroner’s conclusion is “not convincing.”

Hardy said the available records do not support a proximate cause of death.

Those contacted by Sacramento County spokeswoman Kim Nava declined repeated interview requests from KHN and declined to provide information indicating that her office concluded that A partial mulberry leaf contributed to McClintock’s death.

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

It’s unclear how McClintock consumed the white mulberry leaves — whether he ate them raw or drank them in tea — and where he got them.

Tom McClintock, a Republican who represents a district that spans several counties in central and northern California, found his wife unresponsive on Dec. 15, 2021, at their home in Elk Grove, California, according to a coroner’s report. found He has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

At his wife’s funeral in January, Tom McClintock told mourners she was fine when he spoke to her the day before she died. But according to the coroner’s report, the day before his death “he had an upset stomach.”

McClintock also told the mourners that “she was keeping a strict diet” and that “she just joined a gym.”

KHN obtained the March 10 coroner’s report in addition to the autopsy report and death certificate in July and reported the findings in August.

The coroner’s office tested McClintock’s body for the flu, other respiratory viruses, and Covid-19. None found. According to five pathologists interviewed by KHN, he also conducted independent lab tests that showed McClintock had elevated levels of urea nitrogen, sodium, and creatinine — all signs of dehydration. Only one of them said it was plausible that white mulberry leaf could help with dehydration.

All pathologists said the coroner’s publicly released documents did not provide a complete picture of how McClintock died and did not include key details such as what the coroner’s office found at the home, and what McClintock was taking any medications. or supplements.

“It’s a valid indication that there could be dehydration. They really don’t have anything else,” said Dr. Gregory G. Davis, director of the forensic division of the University of Alabama-Birmingham’s Department of Pathology and a resident of Jefferson County, Alabama. Chief Coroner-Medical Examiner.

“I don’t know that mulberry leaf necessarily played a role in the death,” Davis said, adding, as did other experts, that it was not considered toxic.

“He looked from her autopsy results, like she was reasonably healthy, and you wouldn’t really expect her to die at that point. So that already makes it a difficult case. Because it is not clear.

Dr. James Gill, chairman of the Forensic Pathology Committee of the College of American Pathologists and Connecticut’s chief medical examiner, added that it can take days for someone to die from dehydration. A single leaf, which was not fully digested, a process that normally takes only two hours, “does not cause death,” he said.

Gill said it takes at least a week or more for someone to die without drinking alcohol due to dehydration. Based on the available records, “there are some things that don’t really fit.”

Gill said he would have ruled McClintock’s death a natural death of unknown causes, which is about 5 percent of death investigations.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, no deaths from the white mulberry plant have been reported to poison control authorities in the past 10 years. Two cases of people getting sick from mulberry supplements have been reported to the FDA since 2002, according to its database that tracks “adverse events.” FDA spokeswoman Lindsey Hauck declined to say whether the agency is looking into the case because it does not disclose investigations.

After KHN broke the story about McClintock’s cause of death, the coroner’s office released some additional documents, including on December 29, 2021, Allison Colville, curator of the University of California-Davis Center for Plant Diversity. A letter is also included. The coroner asked Colwell to identify a 1 1/8-inch-by-1 7/8-inch piece of leaf found in McClintock’s stomach during the autopsy.

Colwell identified it as a white mulberry and concluded, based on its elasticity and “some green color,” that “it was probably eaten fresh,” his letter said.

Although white mulberry trees are common in the Sacramento area, he noted that in December their leaves are “hard, yellow and mostly fallen off the trees.”

Colwell also put it simply: “The white mulberry is not poisonous.”

“I compared the sample to lethally toxic species that are planted or native to the Sacramento area and found no similarities,” his letter said. Colwell declined an interview request.

The herbal products industry, the dietary supplement industry, and their allies have questioned the possibility that McClintock may have died after consuming supplements containing white mulberry leaves.

“It’s used as food, used as medicine,” said Rick Kingston, a clinical professor at the University of Minnesota’s College of Pharmacy. He is also the co-founder of SafetyCall International, a company that helps the supplements industry and other clients log and track adverse events related to their products.

The American Herbal Products Association, which represents herbal growers and manufacturers, ordered Kingston to review McClintock’s case. “I’ve been seeing a lot of autopsy reports,” Kingston said. “I have to admit it was very little in terms of statistical support.”

Many botanists also question whether the leaf found in McClintock’s stomach was a white mulberry. Alan Sidberg, CEO of California-based Alchemist Labs, which tests botanicals for the supplements industry and other clients, said Colwell’s letter did not include the details of his leaf diagnosis that others who read the report did. will help identify it as a white mulberry. Either that, he said, or the leaf was not a white mulberry.

He said the coroner should release more information, reopen the case and conduct more rigorous tests.

“I would love to see a re-examination and understand why they came to the conclusion that she died primarily from an infected leaf,” Sidberg said.

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

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Along with policy analysis and polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a non-profit organization that provides information on health issues to the nation.

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