Species of buckthorn, which are shrubs or trees that usually grow to a height of 1-10 meters, are widely spread in temperate and subtropical parts of the world. They are classified as belonging to the family Rhamnaceae but may be subclassified into eitherRhamnusorFrangulagenera.
Traditionally, the berries and bark of buckthorn species have been used for stomach disorders. Buckthorn, especially its bark, is known to increase bowel movements in animals and people. The bark of the largest buckthorn,Rhamnus purshiana, is often called cascara sagrada or chitticum bark. The berries, harvested when fully ripe, may increase urine production or cause violent laxative properties.
The laxative effect of buckthorn may be caused by chemicals that also damage cells that line the colon and may promote tumor formation. Therefore, it is suggested that such laxatives, including buckthorn, be used only for short time periods.
Current research is investigating of the ability of buckthorn to prevent mutations and cause toxic effects against cancer cells. More recently, limited studies have investigated the ability of buckthorn to prevent cell growth, prevent mutations, and cause antioxidant effects.
Buckthorn is not generally recognized as safe and effective by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
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