Cascara Sagrada

Botanical Name(s):

Rhamnus purshiana. Family: Rhamnaceae

Other Name(s):

bitter bark, sacred bark

General Description:

Cascara sagrada, which means "sacred bark," was first used by Native Americans. It is made from the bark of a tree found in the northwestern United States. The bark contains anthraquinone glycosides, which act as a cathartic or laxative, depending on the dosage. Cascara relieves constipation and restores the bowel to a healthy tone.

Medically Valid Uses:

Cascara is used to treat constipation, particularly chronic constipation. It may be used for other colon disorders associated with constipation.

Taken internally, cascara sagrada:

  • Acts as a laxative or purgative and stimulates bowel movements

  • Restores or increases intestinal tone

  • Empties the colon

Unsubstantiated Claims:

Please note that this section reports on claims that have NOT yet been substantiated through scientific studies.

Cascara may be useful in treating parasitic infestation. Emodin may be useful in reducing the severity of acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis.

Dosing Format:

Cascara sagrada is found as tablets, capsules and syrup. Follow packaging instructions for correct dose. Cascara is also prepared as a tea or aromatic fluid extract. The aromatic fluid extract dosage is one ml.

Side Effects, Toxicity and Interactions:

Side effects consist of extensions of cascara sagrada's normal function and include cramping and diarrhea. Emodin and other anthracene glycosides are currently being evaluated as possible carcinogens.

As with any laxative, do not use when abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting are present. Do not use in the presence of chronic intestinal disorders such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, sprue or irritable bowel syndrome.

Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not use cascara sagrada.

The bark is considered safe only after aging for at least one year.

Additional Information:

Click here for a list of reputable Web sites with general information on nutrition.

References:

  1. Wolfle D, Schmutte C, Westendorf J, Marquardt H. Hydroxyanthraquinones as tumor promoters: enhancement of malignant transformation of C3H mouse fibroblasts and growth stimulation of primary rat hepatocytes. Cancer Res. 1990;50(20):6540-4.

  2. Muller SO, Eckert I, Lutz WK, Stopper H. Genotoxicity of the laxative drug components emodin, aloe-emodin and danthron in mammalian cells: topoisomerase II mediated?. Mutat Res. 1996;371(3-4):165-73.

  3. Mueller SO, Stopper H, Dekant W. Biotransformation of the anthraquinones emodin and chrysophanol by cytochrome P450 enzymes. Bioactivation to genotoxic metabolites. Drug Metab Dispos. 1998;26(6):540-6.

  4. Schorkhuber M, Richter M, Dutter A, Sontag G, Marian B. Effect of anthraquinone-laxatives on the proliferation and urokinase secretion of normal, premalignant and malignant colonic epithelial cells. Eur J Cancer. 1998;34(7):1091-8.

  5. Wu JX, Xu JY, Yuan YZ. [Effects and mechanism of emodin and sandostatin on pancreatic ischemia in acute haemorrhagic necrotizing pancreatitis]. Chung Kuo Chung Hsi I Chieh Ho Tsa Chih. 1997;17(6):356-9.

  6. Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C, eds. PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company; 1998.

  7. Blumenthal M, Gruenwald J, Hall T, Rister RS, eds. German Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 1997.

  8. Claus EP, Tyler VE. Pharmacognosy. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lea & Febiger; 1967.

  9. Hoffmann D. The Herbal Handbook. A User's Guide to Medical Herbalism. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press; 1988.

  10. Balch JF. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. 2nd ed. Garden City Park, New York: Avery Publishing Group; 1997:66.

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