Rhubarb root is a stimulant laxative that helps drain inflammation from the kidneys, liver and large intestine.*
From what I have read, in spite of the contraindications that are common to most laxatives, rhubarb root is one of the best readily available laxatives, so it is a natural component of Cleanse Me. My purpose was to give my colon a good initial cleaning before doing a juice fast. Of course, with simple constipation, it is always better to try basic remedies first, like increasing dietary fiber and fluid intake, or using a small amount of magnesium at bedtime. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) doctors use rhubarb root to treat constipation, high fever, abdominal distension, gall stones, jaundice and, surprisingly, acute dysentery, due to the herb’s anti-bacterial activity. They stir fry rhubarb root with wine to reduce the laxative effect when it is used for diseases other than constipation.
The major concern with herbs like rhubarb root that contain emodin and sennidin is that long-term use can lead to dependence. Emodin helps to stimulate peristalsis (the involuntary constriction and relaxation of the muscles of the intestine or another canal, creating wavelike movements that push the contents of the canal forward) approximately six to eight hours after ingestion. The effects on the gut are largely topical, and the substances flush out of the system without being absorbed. It seems that rhubarb root has an advantage over other laxatives like the more powerful senna and cascara sagrada in that its higher tannin levels tend to tighten the bowel after 14-18 hours. This somewhat limits the possibility of the flaccid condition that can result from laxative overuse. In fact, the tannins are the reason that small doses of rhubarb (.03 to.3 grams) can actually cause constipation. This is why its usage should be limited to short term.
Here are some research highlights:
In a three-month clinical trial, alcohol extracts of rhubarb made into tablets reduced obesity complicated with hypertension, menstrual irregularities and elevated blood lipids (Chen, 1995).
Test tube studies of emodin, an active component of rhubarb root, demonstrated inhibition of Trichomonas vaginalis (Wang, 1993).
Oral administration of emodin cured intra-vaginal infections in mice (Wang, 1993).
A ten-year controlled clinical double-blind trial at the Xiang Shan TCM Hospital in Shanghai tracked all patients using three types of alcohol-extracted rhubarb tablets to treat chronic upper digestive bleeding. All three types were shown to stop bleeding within 56 hours at an effectiveness rate greater than 90% (Zhou and Jiao, 1990).
Researcher Deng Wenlong, of the Sichuan Provincial Institute of Chinese Materia Medica, presented a paper at Chengdu University of TCM in China explaining rhubarb’s traditional reputation for treating fevers and inflammatory diseases. He began by describing endotoxins, chemicals that are released into the host as a result of the breakdown of the cell walls of Gram-negative bacteria. He demonstrated that endotoxin content in the blood increased greatly in the presence of severe stress, inflammation or infection, and that the bowel was the greatest repository of endotoxin. With the use of rhubarb (and other herbs) to remove endotoxin from the bowel, animals infected with a variety of febrile diseases experienced faster resolution (Wenlong, 1994).
A controlled randomized clinical trial on rats evaluated the effects of rhubarb extract on uremia—the collection of nitrogenous wastes in the blood due to kidney diseases. The uremia symptoms decreased and other blood markers improved, prompting the researchers to conclude, “both the in vivo and in vitro studies have proven the effectiveness of rhubarb in preventing the progression of chronic renal failure” (Li and Liu, 1991).
A randomized controlled clinical trial examined the effect of rhubarb extract on patients with terminal end-stage kidney failure. Blood tests showed a decrease in negative blood markers and an improvement in positive blood markers (albumin, lipoprotein, apolipoproteins) in the test group subjects (Ji et al., 1993).
According to animal studies, the beneficial effect of rhubarb extract is dose-dependent, and due partially to suppression of swelling in kidney tubular cells (Zheng, 1993). In a study on diabetic rats with nephropathy, rhubarb extract stopped the swelling (renal hypertrophy) at an early stage, and so may be useful in the early stages of human diabetic kidney disease (Yang and Li, 1993).
I used the dried powder form of rhubarb root in the herbal combination contained in Cleanse Me. The recommended dosage for this form is one to six grams per day.
Do not use during pregnancy or nursing. Do not use with bowel obstruction or gout. Do not use in cases of severe deficiency. Do not use long term. If you have inflammatory bowel disease, use only under supervision. Long-term use can cause hypertrophy of the liver, thyroid and stomach, as well as nausea, griping, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea (reported in Huang, 1999). Short-term or occasional use is safe in appropriate dosage unless otherwise contraindicated.