Species of buckthorn, which are shrubs or trees that usually grow to a height of 1-10 meters, are widely spread in temperate and subtropical parts of the world. They are classified as belonging to the family Rhamnaceae but may be subclassified into either Rhamnus or Frangula genera.
Traditionally, the berries and bark of buckthorn species have been used for stomach disorders. Buckthorn, especially its bark, is known to increase bowel movements in animals and people. The bark of the largest buckthorn, Rhamnus purshiana, is often called cascara sagrada or chitticum bark. The berries, harvested when fully ripe, may increase urine production or cause violent laxative properties.
The laxative effect of buckthorn may be caused by chemicals that also damage cells that line the colon and may promote tumor formation. Therefore, it is suggested that such laxatives, including buckthorn, be used only for short time periods.
Current research is investigating of the ability of buckthorn to prevent mutations and cause toxic effects against cancer cells. More recently, limited studies have investigated the ability of buckthorn to prevent cell growth, prevent mutations, and cause antioxidant effects.
Buckthorn is not generally recognized as safe and effective by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Preliminary evidence suggests that buckthorn may be effective in treating intestinal blockage. Further research is required with buckthorn alone before a firm conclusion may be made.
* Key to grades
A: Strong scientific evidence for this use B: Good scientific evidence for this use C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use D: Fair scientific evidence for this use (it may not work) F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likley does not work)
Tradition / Theory
The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.
Avoid using buckthorn in individuals with a known allergy or sensitivity to buckthorn, its parts, or members of the Rhamnaceae family.
Rhamnus purshiana (cascara sagrada) may be a potential cause of occupational asthma and rhinitis (nasal congestion).
Side Effects and Warnings
Buckthorn may cause abdominal cramps, asthma, colon dysfunction, colorectal cancer, epithelial cell death (death of body surface cells), hypocalcemia (low calcium levels), melanosis coli (abnormal colon color), nausea, rhinitis (nasal congestion), tumor growth, and vomiting.
Buckthorn may cause low blood pressure. Caution is advised in people taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that lower blood pressure.
Use cautiously in all people, as buckthorn may act as a stimulant laxative and cause nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps.
Avoid using buckthorn long-term, since using for more than 12 months may damage colon function, lead to melanosis coli (abnormal colon color), or promote cancer formation.
Avoid consuming green or ripe buckthorn fruit, as this may cause paralysis of the lower limbs. In severe cases, bulbar palsy (paralysis of certain muscles), or death may occur.
Avoid using buckthorn in people with abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or rectal bleeding.
Avoid using buckthorn in people with a known allergy or sensitivity to buckthorn, its components, or members of the Rhamnaceae family.
Avoid use in pregnant or breastfeeding women, or in children, due to a lack of safety information.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
There is currently a lack of scientific evidence on the use of buckthorn during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
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The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.