Cascara sagrada is an herbal remedy that used to be a common ingredient in some over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives.
The bark comes from a tree called the California buckthorn. This tree grows on the West Coast of the United States and parts of South America. Historically, it was used by Native Americans to treat a host of issues, including:
- digestive problems
- joint and muscle pain
How it works
Cascara sagrada is a stimulant laxative. It works by causing muscle contractions in the intestines. These muscle contractions help move stool through the bowels. The bark contains chemicals called anthraquinones that give it its color and its laxative effect. These chemicals react with bacteria in the intestines to stimulate the bowels.
Cascara sagrada was an ingredient used in several OTC laxatives in the United States for many years. Manufacturers can misrepresent the ingredient, however. In 2002, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled that cascara sagrada and some other types of OTC stimulant laxative ingredients aren’t safe and effective treatments.
As a result, you can no longer buy OTC laxatives that contain cascara sagrada. However, it’s still available as an herbal supplement and as an ingredient in some prescription laxatives.
You should consider several safety concerns before you decide if you should use cascara sagrada. It can cause abdominal cramping, loss of electrolytes, and dependency. Using cascara sagrada for longer than two weeks can cause you to be unable to have a bowel movement without the help of a laxative.
Talk to your doctor before using cascara sagrada. Your doctor can rule out other health issues and tell you if it’s a safe treatment option for your situation. They’ll probably recommend an alternative treatment. Pregnant women and children 12 and under should avoid laxatives due to the potential side effects unless it’s prescribed by a doctor.
You should never use cascara sagrada for:
- inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- intestinal blockages
- stomach pain with an unknown cause
- kidney disease
Make sure you read label instructions carefully before using cascara sagrada. This laxative may also interact with other medications. The dosage for laxatives that contain other substances depends on how much cascara sagrada is present.
Drink plenty of liquids with any laxative you take. A good guideline is to drink six to eight glasses of water per day. This will keep you hydrated and soften your stool. Follow any additional instructions on the product label.
It’s generally recommended that you only use stimulant laxatives occasionally and as a last resort after diet, exercise, and other treatments fail.