Is Cascara Sagrada Dangerous? Find Answers Here

Is Cascara Sagrada Dangerous? Find Answers Here
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What is Cascara Sagrada?

Cascara sagrada (Spanish for “sacred bark”) is a herb that comes from the bark of the Rhamnus purshiana tree which can be found growing in the American Northwest. It has a long history of being used as a laxative by the Native Americans.

Anthraquinones (cascarosides A & B), compounds in cascara sagrada bark, are primarily responsible for the laxative effects. These compounds are transformed by bacteria in the intestines into substances that increase intestinal motility (contractions called peristalsis) in the large intestine, causing a bowel movement.

Today, it can be found as a natural ingredient in over-the-counter laxatives in the United States. Because it is natural and because it is sold in health stores, is cascara sagrada dangerous?

Possible Dangers

• If cascara sagrada is not prepared correctly, it can cause serious problems. It should be aged for at least one year (or properly heated and dried). If not, the effects from freshly dried bark can be too strong, causing intense intestinal spasms, severe diarrhea, and/or vomiting. Because of this, it is important to buy from a reputable source.

• According to a National Toxicology Program (NTP) report (February 2004), there are concerns about the safety of anthraquinone. There is clear evidence of laboratory animals developing cancer in the liver after consuming feed containing anthraquinones.

• There is one report of cascara sagrada being associated with the development of cholestatic hepatitis (inflammation of the liver which can be caused by toxins and is characterized by liver enlargement, jaundice, abdominal pain, fever, and fatigue), complicated by portal hypertension (high blood pressure caused by obstruction in the liver).

• As with any laxative, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance can occur with large doses or prolonged use. This can lead to problems like muscular weakness and heart arrhythmias, especially if taking diuretics.

Is it Safe?

So is cascara sagrada dangerous? Most health professionals recognize it as safe if used correctly. It should be taken as directed and should not be used for more than 7 days in a row.

If you have a medical condition or taking medications, you should talk with your health care provider before taking.

It is not known if taking cascara sagrada is safe when pregnant or breastfeeding.

It is recommended to not give to children under the age of 12.


Any laxative should not be the long term solution for constipation. Eating a healthy diet (including adequate amounts of fiber), exercising regularly, and drinking plenty of fluids (preferably water) can help prevent constipation.

If constipation is caused by a medical condition or a medication, this should be discussed with your health care provider.

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