Rhubarb Purgative And Potential Dependence

Rhubarb Purgative And Potential Dependence

Rhubarb (Rheum Rhabarbarum) is a plant from the family of Polygonaceae containing laxative property like anthraquinones. Its root has been used widely used in traditional Chinese medicine as mild laxative to treat constipation and diarrhea for centuries. In the United States, the tinctures, extracts and powders made from the roots and stalks of the plant are commonly used as a stimulant laxative to treat occasional constipation.


  • Not recommended for children below the age of 12 years
  • It should not be taken with Dogoxin, Lasix or similar drugs
  • Patients with kidney, liver or intestinal problems should avoid using turkey rhubarb
  • Pregnant women should avoid it as it may stimulate uterine contractions possibly causing miscarriage or abortion
  • Breastfeeding mother should avoid it as it can passed through breast milk and cause jaundice in the baby
  • Those with certain gastrointestinal problems like Crohn’s disease, colitis and intestinal obstruction should avoid this herb


It is advisable to use rhubarb root as per the instructions from a certified herbalist.

Side Effects

Most side effects is dose-dependent as exact dosages for effective treatment have not been scientifically researched. Lower doses of rhubarb root are used for treating diarrhea, whereas higher doses can be used to relief constipation. Common side effects of over use include colic, cramping, dehydration, diarrhea, discolored urine, nausea, vomiting, burning sensation in the mouth and throat.

A prolonged use of this herb may cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, especially potassium depletion. Moreover, it might also cause muscular weakness, bone loss, irregular heart rhythm, vertigo, cirrhosis of liver and cardiac arrhythmias.

Laxative Abuse and Dependency

The use of rhubarb stimulant laxatives should only be considered after diet, exercise, bulk laxative and stools softeners proven ineffective. It is means to treat short term occasional constipation and should not be used beyond 1 to 2 weeks. Overuse and abuse of laxatives is very common, especially for patients who use it to treat chronic constipation and obesity. A prolonged consumption may cause laxative dependence (depend on stimulated contraction to have bowel movement) with possible need for increased doses. This is particularly prevalent with stimulant purgatives. On the other end, laxative dependence could simply be a psychological dependence.