The Bad Effects of Turkey Rhubarb Root

Turkey rhubarb has been used in China for over 2,000 years. Today, in the United States, the supplement is used most commonly as a laxative. Modern research shows that turkey rhubarb root may have potential as a treatment for a number of conditions. However, this potent herb also has significant side effects, some of them severe, and should be used only under the supervision of a physician.

Chopped rhubarb on a wooden table. Credit: IngridHS/iStock/Getty Images

Gastrointestinal Side Effects

Most of the side effects of turkey rhubarb are gastrointestinal. They are also often dose-dependent. The Natural Standard Research Collaborative, reporting through the website Healthline, notes that nausea, vomiting, burning in the mouth and throat, colic, problems with gastric motility and atonic colon are possible with excessive use of the herb or use of rhubarb leaves. Overly large doses can produce abdominal cramping and diarrhea, sometimes with bleeding. Laxative dependency may occur if rhubarb root is taken over long periods or in excessive dosages. Rhubarb root should not be taken with Lasix, Digoxin or similar drugs. The stimulant laxative effect of rhubarb in conjunction with these drugs can cause rapid potassium depletion through the urinary and digestive systems. This can result in a severe electrolyte imbalance with disastrous results in debilitated persons.

Side Effects from Toxic Substances in Turkey Rhubarb

The Natural Standard Research Collaborative notes that oxalic acid contained in turkey rhubarb leaves is poisonous and can cause cell death in the liver and kidneys when taken over long periods. In addition, the oxalic acid is associated with kidney stones, which form when oxalate crystals from the blood stream collect in the kidneys. Persons with kidney or liver problems should avoid using turkey rhubarb. Toxic oxalic acid in rhubarb leaves is linked to excessive production of aldosterone, bone deterioration, seizures and death. Cardiac toxicity is also possible with irregular heartbeat, palpitations, and other heart symptoms. rn rnAccording to Natural Standard, the tannins that produce part of the laxative effect in turkey rhubarb are also linked to the possibility of cell death in the liver. Rhubarb anthraquinones, which play a part in the laxative effect, may also cause kidney damage.

Reproductive System Side Effects

The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Information drug and supplement data base says that turkey rhubarb root can stimulate uterine contractions. Because of this, it should not be used during pregnancy due to the risk of miscarriage or abortion. In addition, the substance can be passed through breast milk and can cause jaundice in the breastfed infant.

Allergic Side Effects

According to the Natural Standard Research Collaborative, hypersensitivity to rhubarb root can be developed after initial exposure to the substance. Do not take rhubarb root if you are allergic to it or any of its products. Rashes are possible with handling rhubarb leaves. Itchy skin, and hives have also been noted with rhubarb use. In addition, difficulty breathing, chest pain, swelling or tightness of the throat, mouth or lips can occur. Should you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical assistance immediately.

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