What is a Cholagogue?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2019
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A cholagogue is a compound known to increase the secretion of bile. Such compounds have a history of use in herbal medicine, where some practitioners believe that freeing the flow of bile from the gallbladder to the duodenum can have a beneficial effect. Natural health stores sometimes sell cholagogues, and it is also possible to formulate one at home or have one compounded by an herbal practitioner. Their use in conventional medicine is not very common.

Numerous human societies have used cholagogues in their medical treatment historically in a belief that bile was an important body fluid, and some diseases could be attributed to bile blockages and other problems related to bile. Cholagogue medications were administered orally, often in the form of a tisane, and included ingredients like star anise and dandelion. Modern compounds are available as tisanes, tablets, and capsules.

People seeking treatment with an herbal practitioner for conditions involving the digestion or the liver may be offered a cholagogue as part of treatment. The medication can be custom compounded for the patient, based on the specifics of the patient's case and situation, or a generic may be prescribed. Studies on cholagogues have not suggested that increasing the discharge of bile has any health benefits, but some patients prefer to pursue complementary and alternative medicine before turning to more conventional treatments.


While herbal medicines are available over the counter and people can even make their own, it is important to be aware that they do contain active ingredients and they can adversely interact with each other, as well as with prescription medications. Before taking a cholagogue, patients under the care of a physician should check to see if there are any contraindications in their case and to get information about cholagogues that would be safe for use. Patients may also want to consider getting a thorough workup and discussing other treatment options.

A cholagogue should be kept in a cool, dry place and used as directed. Herbal medicines can have unreliable dosages, depending on how they are harvested, handled, compounded, and stored. Keeping them stored in optimal conditions and following directions carefully will increase the chances that the medication will work as intended. If people develop an increase in the severity of symptoms or develop new symptoms after taking a cholagogue, they should seek medical attention, as they may be experiencing complications and could need more aggressive medical care.


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