The bark of the cascara sagrada – what you need to know

November 12, 2012

The bark of the cascara sagrada – what you need to know

Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

The cascara sagrada tree, also known as the California buckthorn, has a long history of medicinal uses in the Native American community. The dried bark was frequently used to treat constipation and this use continues today. In 2002 the use of cascara sagrada was banned, by the FDA, in over the counter and prescription laxatives. This ban did not extend to existing products, herbal remedies and supplements. Cascara is frequently used in colonic cleansing procedures and as a dietary supplement; users should be made aware of the possible side effects of this natural product.

Laxative dependency

Long term use of cascara sagrada can lead to laxative dependency and may result in permanent damage to the digestive system. Cascara works as a stimulant, irritation and contraction of the muscles in the colon.

Products which contain cascara sagrada are required, by the FDA, to carry a warning against long term use of the item.

Electrolyte imbalance and dehydration

Electrolyte imbalance occurs when the balance of salts and minerals in bodily fluids is disturbed. Electrolyte is the overall term used for the mineral and salts present in precise proportions and which are necessary for healthy bodily function. Electrolyte balance may be the result of dehydration, diarrhea as well as a number of other conditions. Symptoms of electrolyte imbalance included dizziness and lightheadedness, blurred vision and, in extreme cases, organ failure and death.

Dehydration may also be the result of diarrhea and this can also be a life threatening condition. Dehydration can cause mental impairment, blurred vision, fainting spells, kidney damage, overall feeling of weakness and even death.

Since one of the side effects of cascara sagrada is diarrhea it is essential that steps are taken to avoid dehydration and electrolyte imbalance – over the counter remedies to replace electrolytes are readily available.

Dangers of using fresh bark

Any herbal supplements which contain cascara sagrada should only use bark which has been aged. The fresh bark of the cascara contains higher, more dangerous, levels of the active ingredients which cause the symptoms of diarrhea (possibly bloody), abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting.

Other medications

Anyone who is already taking any medications prescribed by their medical practitioner – particularly digitalis or diuretics – should seek professional advice before using any product containing cascara sagrada as it is known to increase the potency of some medications and may cause a potassium deficiency.

Pre-existing conditions

Anyone who has a pre-existing medical condition such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel or ulcerative colitis should avoid products containing cascara as it may well exacerbate the symptoms of these diseases. An individual experiencing abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea and diarrhea would also do well to avoid this ingredient.

Is cascara carcinogenic?

Some research suggests that emodin – found in cascara bark – is a possible carcinogen. There is currently no evidence to suggest that, when taken in the recommended doses, cascara is a carcinogen, however, caution is recommended where chronic use and even dependency is concerned as this may cause DNA damage leading to the mutations commonly found in cancer cells.

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