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Presented by: UT El Paso / Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program & Paso del Norte Health Foundation

Candlenut Tree


Compilation by Armando Gonzalez Stuart, PhD.

Scientific Name:

Aleurites moluccana

Botanical Family:

Euphorbiaceae

Other Common Name:

The seed of this tree is known around the world by a plethora of common names including: Akhoda, Belgaum walnut, Candleberry, Country walnut, Dau lai, Indian walnut, Jamaican walnut, Kukui, Lumbang oil, Shi Li Zi, Tuitui, Nois des Moluques, Otaheite walnut, Singapore nut, and Varnish tree (Quattrocchi, 2012; Nelson et al., 2007; Duke and Ayensu, 1985).

Common names in Spanish:

Árbol de Indias, Avellano, Nogal de la India, Nuez de la India, Palo de la India, Palo de nuez (Liogier, 1990; Núñez-Menéndez, 1990).

Where is it found?

The tree is originally from Indonesia (principally the Moluccas Islands), but is now cultivated in the West Indies and South America, especially in Brazil. (Mabberley, 2008; Liogier, 1990). Some ads mention that this tree is native to the Amazon region, which is incorrect.

Parts of the plant used:

The fruits and leaves of this plant are used in traditional Asian medicine for the treatment of headache, morning sickness, fever, inflammation, gonorrhea, and to lower cholesterol (Pedrosa et al., 2002; Ostraff et al., 2000).

How is it used?

In order to lose weight, some ads mention that a very small portion (approximately 1/8 to 1/4) of the seed should be boiled in water prior to taking it before bedtime. However, since no exact dose has been specified, it may be difficult to measure exactly how much of the seed will actually be ingested. Although the seeds have been touted as having various therapeutic properties (including efficacy and safety for weight loss), no clinical trials have been undertaken in humans to evaluate their potential beneficial or toxicological effects.

Some commercial ads on the Internet claim the seeds of the plant can help in weight loss, as well as to lower cholesterol levels. Certain sites also mention the seed is useful for a great variety of conditions including arthritis, baldness, cellulite, constipation, hemorrhoids, to improve skin conditions, as an appetite suppressant, and as an aid to stop cravings for tobacco (smoking cessation). However, there are no known published clinical trials to confirm any of the supposed health benefits of ingesting the seed.

What is it used for?

The fruits and leaves of this tree are used in the traditional medicine of various Asian nations for the treatment of various health issues including headache, morning sickness, fever, inflammation, and gonorrhea (Ostraff et al., 2000).

A study evaluated a leaf extract that lowered cholesterol levels in laboratory animals (Pedrosa et al., 2002). The plant is also regarded as possessing appetite-stimulating, aphrodisiac, purgative, stimulant, and diaphoretic activities. It is also used against asthma, weakness, sores, as an anti-inflammatory, as well as to treat tumors and uterine problems (Herbal Medicine Research Center, 2002).

Various closely related species, including A. fordii (Tung nut tree), have also been associated in the poisoning of humans as well as animals (Mackenzie, 2012; Van Wyk and Wink, 2008; Pfrohne and Pfander, 2005; Lin, et al., 1996).

Much of the potential toxicity of the seeds and other parts of the plant is due to compounds known as phorbol esters. These irritating compounds are very strong purgatives and also act as potent tumor promoters (co-carcinogens). Phorbol esters can also be very irritating to the skin and eyes. Ingestion of the seeds causes vomiting, gastrointestinal pain, and diarrhea. The candlenut tree also contains toxic compounds in the fruit, known as saponins (VanWyk and Wink, 2014, 2008; Nuñez-Meléndez, 1990).

Over the years, various health agencies had received reports of the seed’s toxicity (Ramírez et al., 2009). A toxicology case report from Navarra, Spain, mentioned the poisoning of a woman who was hospitalized after ingesting a whole candlenut seed as a laxative for weight loss (Pinillos et al., 2007). This and other related events prompted the Government of Spain to ban the use of the seed due to its potentially toxic properties (AEMPS, 2012). In Argentina, at least four women were taken to the intensive care unit of two different hospitals after ingesting the seed with the intention of losing weight (9Ahora, 2017 a, b). The Government of Chile also banned the use of candlenut seed, due to reports of intoxications (Instituto de Salud Pública, 2017). Additionally, the Brazilian government prohibited the ingestion of the seed due to three deaths reportedly caused by the ingestion of the seed for weight loss (ANVISA, 2016).

Safety / Precautions

  •  Safety/Precautions
    • Various countries across the world have banned the seed or are considering doing so, due to its confirmed toxicity.
    • There are no known clinical studies in humans to verify the seeds’ efficacy or safety for weight loss or any of the various other health claims made by some commercial companies that market candlenut tree seeds.
    • Avoid during pregnancy and lactation, as well as in small children, and the elderly.
    • Since the seeds can have a drastic purgative action (Wagstaff, 2008; Nelson et al., 2007; Hocking, 1997), they should not be used without supervision from a health professional, especially in patients with colitis (inflammation of the large intestine), or IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
    • Patients suffering from any form of liver, heart or kidney disease should avoid taking this product.
    • Some people may be allergic to the leaves or seeds of this plant.

    Before you decide to take any medicinal herb or herbal supplement, be sure to consult with your health care professional first. Avoid self-diagnosis and self-medication: Always be on the safe side!

References:

AEMPS /Agencia Española de Medicamentos y Productos Sanitarios. (2012). Retirada del producto nuez de la india-magicnuez https://www.aemps.gob.es/informa/notasInformativas/medicamentosUsoHumano/medIlegales/2012/docs/ICM_MI_13-2012.pdf
Retreived May 4, 2017.

ANVISA /Agencia Nacional de Vigilancia Sanitaria. (2016). Noz da Índia está proibida no Brasil. http://portal.anvisa.gov.br/en/noticias/-/asset_publisher/FXrpx9qY7FbU/content/noz-da-india-esta-proibida-no-brasil/219201/pop_up?_101_INSTANCE_FXrpx9qY7FbU_viewMode=print&_101_INSTANCE_FXrpx9qY7FbU_languageId=pt_BR Retrieved May 4, 2017.

9Ahora (2017a). Nuez de la India, la semilla dietética que puede provocar la muerte.
https://9ahora.com.ar/nuez-de-la-india-la-semilla-dietetica-que-puede-provocar-la-muerte-190835/ Retrieved March 9, 2017.

9Ahora (2017b). Alertan por el consumo de la Nuez de la India, usada para adelgazar.
https://9ahora.com.ar/alerta-por-los-riesgos-de-la-nuez-de-la-india-usada-para-adelgazar-190759/ Retrieved March 9, 2017.

Duke J, and Ayensu E. (1985). Medicinal Plants of China Vol. 1.
Algonac, MI: Reference Publications; p. 301.

Herbal Medicine Research Centre (2002). Compendium of Medicinal Plants used in Malaysia.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Institute for Medical Research; p. 27.

Hocking G. A Dictionary of Natural Products.
Medford, NJ: Plexus; 1997; p 30.

Lin TJ, Hsu CI, Lee KH, Shiu LL, Deng JF. (1996). Two outbreaks of acute Tung Nut (Aleurites fordii) poisoning. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. ;34(1):87-92.

Liogier, AH. (1990). Plantas Medicinales de Puerto Rico y el Caribe.
San Juan, PR: p.

Mabberley, D J.(2008). Mabberley’s Plant Book 3rd ed.
London: Cambridge University Press; p. 26.

McKenzie, R. (2012). Australia’s Poisonous Plants, Fungi and Cyanobacteria.
Victoria, Australia: CSIRO Publishing; p. 723.

Nelson L, Shih R, Balick M. Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants, 2nd ed. New York:
Springer-Verlag; 2007; pp. 70-71.

Nuñez-Meléndez, E. (1990). Plantas Venenosas de Puerto Rico y Las Que Causan Dermatitis.
San Juan, PR: Editorial Universitaria de Puerto Rico; pp. 107-108.

Ostraff M, Anitoni K, Nicholson A, Booth GM. Traditional Tongan cures for morning sickness and their mutagenic/toxicological evaluations. J Ethnopharmacol. 2000; 71(1-2):201-9.

Pedrosa RC, Meyre-Silva C, Cechinel-Filho V, Benassi JC, Oliveira LF, Zancanaro V, Dal Magro J, Yunes RA. Hypolipidaemic activity of methanol extract of Aleurites moluccana. Phytother Res. 2002; 16(8):765-8.

Perry, L. (1988). Medicinal Plants of East and Southeast Asia.
Boston, MA: MIT Press; p 137.

Pfrohne D, and Pfander, J. (2005). Poisonous Plants 2 nd ed.
Portland OR: Timber Press; p. 183.

Pinillos, MA, Beaumont, C, Jean Louis, C., Rubio, C., Martínez Jarauta, J., & Velilla, N. Intoxicación Por “Nuez De La India” (Aleurites Moluccana). (2007). Revista De Toxicología, 24 (2y3). http://rev.aetox.es/wp/wp-content/uploads/hemeroteca/vol24-2/revtox.24.2-3.2007.pdf Retrieved May 27, 2017.

Ramírez L. Expertos piden prohibir nuez de la India. La Nación -28 de mayo de 2009 http://www.lanacion.cl/prontus_noticias_v2/site/artic/20090527/pags/20090527220633.html (accessed 5-27-17).

Van Wyk E, and Wink M. (2014). Phytomedicines, Herbal Drugs, and Poisons.
Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press; pp. 57,100.

Van Wyk E, and Wink M. (2008). Mind-Altering and Poisonous Plants of the World.
Portland, OR: Timber Press; pp. 46, 320-321.

Wagstaff J. International Poisonous Plant Checklist: An Evidence-Based Reference. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2008; p. 15.