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What Are the Medicinal Uses of Anthraquinone?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Anthraquinone has been shown in certain studies to help aid in digestion as a laxative, to reduce inflammation in arthritis patients, and to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. There is more than one kind of anthraquinone, and those used for medical treatment are often found naturally in plants such as aloe vera. Despite promising results in some situations, patients should be aware that this compound does carry the risk of side effects and certain complications.

One of the most common medicinal uses for anthraquinone is as a laxative. It has been shown effective at speeding up bowel movements in those with constipation. Many times it is not recommended, however, because it can lead to side effects. One troubling issue is a discoloration of the intestines. This is not dangerous, but it can be upsetting for some patients, and confusing for doctors.

Another way in which anthraquinone is used is in the treatment of arthritis. Usually, this treatment isn't performed using the herb alone, but in the form of aloe vera supplements. Certain forms of anthraquinone are found naturally in aloe, and it is suspected that it, in combination with other compounds, could help reduce inflammation and pain associated with some types of arthritis.

Cancer is another ailment which may be fought with certain plants containing forms of anthraquinone. One common example is rhubarb, as this is one of the most widely tested in terms of effectiveness. There are three separate anthraquinones found in rhubarb which could help kill cancer cells and prevent the growth of new ones. More studies are needed to determine how effective this treatment could be, but those done so far have been promising.

The fact that some anthraquinones have been shown to prevent or even treat cancer is not the only connection between these compounds and cancerous cells. Some other studies have shown that certain anthraquinone forms might have a carcinogenic effect on the body. This may be more likely in those produced synthetically, such as those found in certain dyes and other commercial products. These are typically different in molecular makeup than ones found naturally in certain plant species.

Although natural, patients should not attempt to use herbal supplements without first consulting a doctor. Not only can they have side effects in some patients, but they can cause interactions with other drugs. It is also important to establish a clear diagnosis before attempting any kind of treatment.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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