Emodin is basically a purgative resin that occurs naturally in several plants. However, this resin is mostly extracted from the rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) plant. This resin has several potential uses and a few of them include its utilization in the form of a laxative and alleviate the harmful effects of diabetes. In addition, emodin is also partially used in treating cancer.

Emodin is a natural compound belonging to the anthraquinones family. After the resin is extracted and dehydrated, it has a yellow, crystallized powdery appearance. While this compound is mostly extracted from rhubarb, sometimes it is also acquired from buckthorn and Japanese knotweed.

Traditionally, emodin has been therapeutically employed in the form of a purgative. Natural flora present in the gut breaks down this compound into a simpler substance called algycone, which works as a purgative inside the intestines in two different ways. Firstly, algycone assists in controlling the uptake as well as release of water into the gut. Secondly, emodin strengthens the involuntary muscular contractions inside the intestine, thereby helping the passage of fecal matter through the gut.

Emodin has another therapeutic, but experimental, use. This natural compound is employed to check type 2 diabetes. It is believed that emodin can help to prevent the action of an enzyme that induces diabetes. Consequently, this extract from rhubarb may be useful in governing insulin activity.

Scientists have also explored the potential of this natural compound as an anti-cancer medication. Often people suffering from cancer succumb to the disease when a localized carcinogenic tumour spreads all over the body or to different body parts. During studies, emodin has demonstrated a few preliminary successes in inhibiting or preventing the spread of cancerous tumours to different areas of the body. It is believed that the mechanism of emodin in preventing the spread of cancerous tumours is the ability of this plant-derived substance to obstruct the cell-to-cell bonding, which is essential for metastasis as well as the aptitude of the carcinogenic cells to penetrate other healthy cells, affect them and carry them all over the body.

The health benefits of emodin notwithstanding, use of this compound also results in a number of adverse side effects. Ironically, one potential perilous side effect of emodin is also one of the several uses of this compound. Using this substance for an extended period or oral use of emodin in excessive amounts can change this compound from a safe purgative to a chemical that has the potential to cause serious diarrhea. Hence, it is advisable that you should never use this compound as a purgative for a prolonged period or in excessive amounts.

The other side effects of emodin include vomiting and nausea. Prolonged use of this medicine together with stomach disorders may also result in poor appetite. It is possible to avoid the problem of nausea by taking emodin with a meal or a small snack.

Aside from the above mentioned side effects, prolonged use of emodin or for that matter any anthraquinones may increase the risks of kidney and/ or liver damage. However, scientists are yet to ascertain the reason for kidney or liver damage due to long-term use of anthraquinones, including emodin. If any person is taking this compound on a long-term basis, it is essential to monitor the health and functioning of their liver and kidneys at regular intervals.

Health benefits

Emodin slows down the action of an enzyme called tyrosine kinase, which has been associated with the formation of specific forms of cancer. In vitro studies and those undertaken on animal models have revealed that this natural compound possesses the potential to restrain carcinogenic activities. Several studies have shown that emodin has an anti-proliferative consequence against breast, cervical and pancreatic cancer cells. Findings of some of these studies have also suggested that emodin encourages apoptosis (self-destruction) of various cancer cells, thereby restricting their proliferation. It has also been found that emodin has anti-tumour actions, as it targets the blood vessels that supply blood to the carcinogenic cells.

People have been traditionally using emodin in the form of a laxative. This natural compound is known to promote evacuation of bowel movement by means of stimulating the smooth muscle cells found in the large intestine. In addition, emodin works to break down into yet another compound called aglycone inside the colon. This compound helps to bring in additional water in the gut, thereby facilitating the elimination of fecal matter from the body. As a result, emodin may be useful in treating constipation, as it stimulates bowel movement.

In the past, people considered cascara a folk remedy for treating constipation. Incidentally, cascara is a shrub containing reasonable amounts of emodin. Even the Native Americans used the bark of cascara to be a natural laxative. The purgative or bowel cleansing properties of cascara has mainly been attributed to its emodin content.

In vivo as well as in vitro studies undertaken with emodin they have revealed that this plant-based compound possesses anti-inflammatory properties. Hence, the use of this plant-derived substance may be useful in treating conditions associated with inflammation, such as asthma, arthritis, atherosclerosis and pancreatitis.

During various in vitro and in vivo studies, it has been found that emodin possesses potential antiviral actions. The studies noted that this plant-based compound is effectual against herpes simplex viruses, such as HSV-1 and HSV-2. It was also observed during the studies that when emodin was exposed to tissue culture cells infested by herpes simplex virus (HSV), it was successful in suppressing the increase of HSV-1 and HSV-2. Emodin was also found to hinder the ability of these viruses to replicate. Similarly, when mice infected with HSV were given oral doses of this plant-derived compound for a week, there was an increase in the survival rate of the affected rodents. In addition to these, during animal studies, scientists also observed that the effectiveness of emodin was equal to that of acyclovir - a prescription anti-viral drug. One study has suggested that emodin possesses remarkable anti-viral actions and can possibly be used for treating HSV infections effectively.

Researchers also undertook in vitro studies to explore the actions of emodin against H. pylori cell cultures. It may be noted that H. pylori is the bacterium that causes stomach ulcers. During the study it was found that the effectiveness of emodin in holding back H. pylori bacteria growth was subject to the dosage of the compound. In other words, higher doses of emodin will help to inhibit the growth rate of H. pylori bacteria better.

It has also been observed that emodin possesses hepato-protective properties. In other words, use of this natural compound can help to prevent liver damage. When rats affected by liver damage caused by acetaminophen received emodin therapy, it diminished the toxic consequences of acetaminophen on their liver drastically. Precisely speaking, rats that received emodin dosages of anything between 30 mg/kg and 40 mg/kg were found to show significant improvements. In effect, such high dose of emodin helped to reverse the noxious effects of acetaminophen on the liver of these rodents. This revealed that emodin may be useful in shielding the liver from toxicity caused by acetaminophen.

Studies undertaken on animals have also revealed that emodin also possesses the aptitude to protect against gastric ulcers caused by aspirin as well as pylorus ligation rats. It has been found that emodin works to decrease stomach acid production, in addition to production of secretions, especially enzymes like pepsin. This attribute, in turn, helps to shield the stomach and intestine membranes that secrete mucus. It suggests that emodin possesses anti-ulcerogenic actions and it works by slowing down stomach acid secretions.

Side effects and cautions

Taking elevated doses of emodin in the form of a supplement or using this compound for a prolonged period may result in diarrhea. Hence, if this compound is not taken in the right doses and appropriate manner, the very purpose of using it may actually turn out to be a problem. Moreover, emodin has the potential to have a negative effect on our digestive system leading to vomiting, nausea and stomach disorders. At the same time it is important to bear in mind that taking emodin for an extended period may have a major negative effect on our overall health. For example, chronic use of this compound may augment the chances of developing conditions related to the liver and/ or the kidneys. Hence it is important that if you are already taking emodin, you should regularly monitor these organs, especially if you are using the compound for a prolonged period.

Before you start taking emodin supplement for any medical purpose, ensure that you check with your physician or a qualified health care provider to determine whether this compound is suitable for you.


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