What Is Emodin?

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  • Written By: Rebecca Harkin
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2019
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Emodin is a resin that can be found in many plants, but is most often extracted from the rhubarb plant. Some of the many potential uses of this substance include its use as a laxative, its ability to mitigate the impact of diabetes, and as a part of anti-cancer therapy. The main side effects of emodin are nausea, diarrhea, and damage to the liver or kidneys.

This compound is a member of the anthraquinones family. Emodin looks like a yellow, crystallized powder after it is extracted and dried. Most often extracted from rhubarb, this medicine can also be obtained from Japanese knotweed, and buckthorn.

The traditional medical use of emodin is as a laxative. This compound is broken down into a substance known as aglycone by the natural flora in the gut. Aglycone acts as a laxative in the intestines in two ways. First, algycone helps to control the uptake and release of water in the gut. Second, this chemical intensifies the involuntary muscular contractions in the intestine that helps to move fecal matter through.

Another medicinal, but experimental, use of emodin is in controlling type 2 diabetes. This chemical may prevent the action of a diabetes-inducing enzyme. As a result, this rhubarb extract may help regulate the action of insulin.


Emodin has also been studied as an anti-cancer drug. Mortality in cancer is often the result of a localized cancerous tumor spreading throughout the body to other sites. This chemical has shown some initial success in preventing or slowing the spread of cancerous tumors. The mechanism that prevents tumors from spreading is thought to be based on this substance’s ability to interfere with the cell-to-cell adhesion needed in metastasis and the ability of the cancer cells to infiltrate other types of cells and be carried throughout the body.

There are some side effects associated with the use of emodin. One of the potentially dangerous side effects of this substance is also one of the uses of this medicine. Prolonged use or ingesting large quantities of emodin can transform this substance from a safe laxative into a chemical that can produce severe diarrhea. This compound should not be used long-term as a laxative.

Nausea and even vomiting are other side effects of this medicine. Long-term use, coupled with stomach problems, can also lead to a lowered appetite. The nausea can be decreased by taking this medication with a small snack or meal.

Long-term use of emodin, or any other anthraquinones, may elevate the danger of liver or kidney damage. The cause of the liver or kidney problems is not known. Whenever a patient undergoes prolonged use of this medicine, careful review of liver and kidney functions should be conducted periodically.


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