Consumer AlertDiarrhea/ConstipationHerbals

Side effects from herbals used as laxatives

Researchers at the University of Rome, in Italy, report on adverse reactions associated with herbal laxatives reported to the Italian Medicines Agency and the Italian National Institute of Health over 9 years.

Here’s what we know.

  • 26 reactions were reported.
    • 8 were associated with herbal medicinal products.
    • 18 were related to herbal food supplements.
  • Almost 80% of the reports involved women.
  • When classified by organ system, side effects were associated with gastrointestinal, skin and subcutaneous tissue, and hepatobiliary disorders.
  • 50% of the reactions were serious, with the patients requiring hospitalization.
    • 1 was life threatening.
  • Most of the herbal remedies associated with the reported side effects contained liquorice, dandelion, and/or plants containing anthraquinones (laxatives).
  • Possible causes of the side effects were long-term use, idiosyncratic reactions or hypersensitivity, and interaction with other treatments.

The bottom line?

The authors concluded, “Taking into account the seriousness of the reported adverse reactions, the low number of reports does not represent a guarantee of safety. To reduce the risk of an adverse outcome, herbal laxatives should be used only over the short term.”

It’s possible there was an under-reporting of adverse reactions. Regardless, these findings suggest that herbal laxatives have a risk for potentially serious problems.

10/ 26/11 21:23 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.