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Emodin: Benefits and Side Effects

Emodin is a plant resin and has shown antiviral, antibacterial, anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties in various in vitro and in vivo studies. However , when taken in supplemental form, it can cause side effects like nausea and vomiting, and its prolonged use can also affect kidney and liver functions.
HolisticZine Staff
Did You Know?
Animal studies have shown that emodin inhibits the activity of a diabetes-inducing enzyme. Inhibiting this enzyme (11β-HSD1) has shown to improve glycemic control in clinical trials. So taking emodin may help to treat insulin resistance and control diabetes.

Emodin is a plant resin that occurs in a variety of plants including rhubarb, buckthorn and Japanese knotweed. It is a natural anthraquinone derivative that is also found in Chinese herbs like Rheum palmatum. Emodin obtained from the roots of this plant is a yellowish-orange powder and has shown a promising potential for various medical uses. The plant resin has exhibited high therapeutic value in vitro and in vivo studies. The following Buzzle write-up discusses some purported health benefits of emodin.
Displays Laxative Properties
Traditionally, emodin has been used as a laxative. It is said to stimulate the evacuation of bowel movement by exciting smooth muscle cells in the large intestine. Also, emodin in the colon breaks down into another compound known as aglycone, which also draws more water in the gut. This also works in eliminating fecal matter from the body. So, emodin may help treat constipation by stimulating bowel movement.
Cascara (a woody shrub that contains emodin) was considered a folk remedy for constipation. The Native Americans considered the dried bark of cascara as a natural laxative. The purgative or bowel cleansing properties of cascara mainly come due to the presence of emodin.
Anticancer Agent
Emodin inhibits the activity of tyrosine kinase, an enzyme that has been linked to formation of certain types of cancer. Vitro studies as well as those conducted on animal models have shown that emodin has the potential to inhibit cancer activity. Studies have demonstrated anti-proliferative effect against breast, pancreatic, and cervical cancer cells. Studies indicate that emodin promotes apoptosis in a variety of cancer cells to contain their proliferation. Emodin also displays antitumor activity by targeting the blood vessels that promote blood circulation to cancer cells.
Anti-inflammatory Agent
In vitro and in vivo studies have shown that this plant-derived substance is anti-inflammatory. So, its use may be helpful in the treatment of inflammatory conditions including arthritis, atherosclerosis, asthma, and pancreatitis.
Antiviral Agent
Emodin has shown promising antiviral activity in test tube and in vivo studies. The studies observed that emodin is effective against herpes simplex viruses (HSV-1 and HSV-2). In the study, it was observed that emodin, when exposed to HSV-infested tissue culture cells. was able to suppress the proliferation of HSV-1 and HSV-2. Emodin interfered with their ability to replicate. Whereas, HSV-infected mice that were put on oral doses of emodin for a week, also showed an increase in survival rate. Moreover, researchers also noticed that, in animal studies, emodin was as effective as acyclovir―a prescribed anti-viral medication. The study suggests that emodin has significant anti-viral activity and has the potential to be an effective treatment for HSV infection.
In vitro studies were also conducted to investigate the effect of emodin against cell cultures of H. pylori―the bacteria responsible for causing ulcers in the stomach. It was observed that the efficacy of emodin in suppressing the growth of H. pylori bacteria was dose-dependent. This means higher the amount of emodin, more will be the inhibition rate of H. pylori bacteria. Moreover, the DNA damage in H. pylori bacteria was found to be higher at greater doses.
Hepatoprotective Agent
Emodin also shows hepatoprotective activity, meaning it can help keep the liver safe from damage. When rats suffering from acetaminophen-induced liver damage were put on emodin treatment, it significantly reduced the toxic effects of acetaminophen on liver. In fact, rats that were put on doses of 30 and 40 mg/kg showed substantial improvement, and this emodin dose actually reversed the toxic effects of acetaminophen. This shows that emodin may help in protecting liver from acetaminophen-induced toxicity.
Demonstrates Anti-ulcer Activity
Animal studies have also shown that emodin exhibits protective effects against gastric ulcers induced by aspirin and pylorus ligation rats. Emodin reduces production of stomach acids as well as enzymes like pepsin. This helps protect the mucus-secreting membrane, lining the stomach and the intestine. This indicates that emodin shows anti-ulcerogenic activity by inhibiting secretion of stomach acids.
Side Effects
Taking supplemental form of emodin in higher doses or using it for an extended duration of time can cause diarrhea. So the very purpose of using emodin may actually become a problem if it is not taken in the right amounts. Emodin can also negatively affect the digestive system and cause nausea, vomiting, and stomach upset. Taking emodin for prolonged duration can have a major impact on the health. For instance, chronic use can increase the risk of liver or kidney problems. So monitoring the function of these organs is necessary when taking emodin for an extended duration.
An important point to note here is that medical uses of emodin are not backed by the FDA. The medical advantages of emodin are lacking in extensive clinical research. So before taking emodin supplements for medical purposes, make sure you consult with your health care provider.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.