Anthraquinones Benefits and Side Effects

Anthraquinones are organic compounds found in some plants. Chemically they come in the form of simple anthrones or bianthrones. Anthraquinones are used for dyes, pigments as well as for medicinal purposes.

Stalks of rhubarb on a table
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Plants With High Levels of Anthraquinones

The following plants have high levels of anthraquinones:

Anthraquinones can also be found in lower amounts in other types of vegetables and herbs.

Anthraquinone derivatives play an important role in many types of medications, including cancer drugs.

Physical Effects

Anthraquinones are potent laxatives and can be irritating to both the upper and lower parts of the gastrointestinal tract. There are various research reports on the effects of the various types of anthraquinones.

Although no definitive statements can be concluded from this limited research, these reports are investigating the hypotheses that anthraquinones contain the following qualities:

  • Antibacterial
  • Antifungal
  • Antioxidant
  • Antiviral
  • Emetic
  • Insecticidal

Given these qualities, it is theorized that anthraquinones may offer protection against the following although, again, no firm conclusions can be drawn. As of now, there is no clinical evidence that anthraquinones offer protection from these conditions.

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Malaria

Use for Constipation

One of the most common medicinal uses of anthraquinones is to bring about constipation relief through their laxative effects. Anthraquinones are thought to increase the amount of fluid in the colon and may also serve to stimulate colon contractions.

Typically, one would experience the laxative effect of anthraquinones approximately seven hours after ingesting.

Potential Side Effects

There have historically been some concerns about the long-term use of anthraquinones. The most notable being the development of a condition known as melanosis coli. In this condition, the lining of the colon takes on a dark brownish-black hue. It is estimated that it takes four months of anthraquinone use for melanosis coli to develop.

In the past, there was some concern that the development of melanosis coli increased a person's risk for colon cancer. However, more recent research suggests that this is not the case. Interestingly, melanosis coli can reverse itself although the process can take up to 15 months after anthraquinone use has been discontinued.

An additional concern regarding anthraquinone laxatives has been for the potential for dependence stimulant laxatives. Again, research has not shown this to be the case.

There is some evidence that the overuse of anthraquinones can be dangerous.

Although research has not shown that long-term use of anthraquinones does not necessarily result in serious side effects, it may be prudent to use such products only for short-term relief of constipation.

As with any over-the-counter remedy, you should speak with your practitioner to ensure that the product is safe for you given your medical history. In addition, you can work with your healthcare provider to develop a comprehensive approach to easing constipation symptoms, such as increasing fiber, so as to reduce your need for stimulant laxatives.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fouillaud M, Venkatachalam M, Girard-Valenciennes E, Caro Y, Dufossé L. Anthraquinones and Derivatives from Marine-Derived Fungi: Structural Diversity and Selected Biological ActivitiesMar Drugs. 2016;14(4):64. doi:10.3390/md14040064

  2. Portalatin M, Winstead N. Medical management of constipationClin Colon Rectal Surg. 2012;25(1):12-19. doi:10.1055/s-0032-1301754

  3. Ricciuti B, Leone MC, Metro G. Melanosis coli or ischaemic colitis? That is the questionBMJ Case Rep. 2015;2015:bcr2015212404. doi:10.1136/bcr-2015-212404

  4. Nusko G, Schneider B, Schneider I, Wittekind C, Hahn EG. Anthranoid laxative use is not a risk factor for colorectal neoplasia: results of a prospective case control studyGut. 2000;46(5):651-655. doi:10.1136/gut.46.5.651

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.