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Before You Use Cascara Sagrada


Updated August 26, 2013

Cascara sagrada is an herbal supplement long used by Native Americans for its laxative properties. The supplement is taken from the bark of a species of buckthorn plant, with the botanical name rhamnus purshiana. Cascara sagrada contains anthraquinones, organic compounds known for their laxative effect. Although cascara sagrada is sold over-the-counter, there are important safety risks that you need to know to help you to decide if taking cascara sagrada is right for you.

Is Cascara Sagrada Safe?

Safety information on cascara sagrada is a bit sobering. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ruling in 2002 that banned the inclusion of cascara sagrada in over-the-counter products due to safety concerns. Regular use of cascara sagrada has been linked with an increased risk of hepatitis and colorectal cancer.

Safety Recommendations

Cascara sagrada is not recommended for use by pregnant women or children under the age of 12. If you suffer from any type of health problem, it is essential that you get clearance from your doctor before taking cascara sagrada due to potential adverse reactions. Cascara sagrada should not be taken for more than seven days in a row.

The Bottom Line

People often assume that all herbal supplements are safe. Cascara sagrada is a good example of the fact that caution needs to be applied before initiating any form of treatment, even one that is sold over-the-counter. In my opinion, it would be well worth your time to explore alternative treatments for constipation.

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Food and Drug Administration Status of Certain Additional Over-the-Counter Drug Category II and III Active Ingredients

Nadir, A., Reddy, D. & Van Thiel, D. “ Cascara sagrada-induced intrahepatic cholestasis causing portal hypertension: case report and review of herbal hepatotoxicityThe American Journal of Gastroenterology 2000 95: 3634–3637.

Siegers, C., Hertzberg-Lottin, E., Otte, M. & Schneider, B. “Anthranoid laxative abuse--a risk for colorectal cancer?Gut 1993 34:1099-1011.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed physician. It is essential that you discuss with your doctor any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.

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