Laxatives: anthraquinones and Aloe

Aloe vera, a well-known succulent plant, is now mainly used as a cosmetic ingredient, but in the past it was mainly known as a good and highly effective laxative. The leaf of the plant, just below the peel, contains so-called anthraquinone-containing resins, which provide a stimulating effect in the large intestine. All anthraquinone-containing plants mainly have a laxative effect. The active substances are the anthraquinone glycosides and their cleavage products. But the effect is slightly different per connection. It depends on the structure of the substance in question.
Anthraquinone compounds also occur in nature without sugars. As a result, they have a different effect and are called anthraquinone derivatives (derivatives are derivatives). Some researchers believe that anthraquinone glycosides play a role in the storage of reserve food in the plant. They are formed in the above-ground plant parts. Then they go to the organs for the storage of reserve food. Depending on the need, the anthraquinone glycosides are ­split, with the sugars going to the places of consumption. It could be that the transport of sugars is the only task of these compounds, but that is far from certain.
The group of anthraquinone-containing plants contains some of the most important ­laxative herbs. The anthraquinone glycosides mainly act on the large intestine. Well- known laxatives are preparations ­of aloe, senna leaves and pods, rhubarb root and buckthorn bark.

The action of the anthraquinones

The glycoside molecule is cleaved in the large intestine. The molecule breaks down into two parts. The sugar(s) and the rest of the molecule, also called an aglycone (without sugar). This sugarless part of the molecule influences intestinal peristalsis (the intestinal movements) and the thickening of the intestinal contents (the water content of the stool). So that the intestinal contents drain more easily.

Aloe species (Aloeferox, A. succotrina, A. africana)

In Aloe species, it is the resin between the peel and the slime core of the leaf that contains the anthraquinones and therefore has a laxative effect. Although they work slightly differently than, for example, senna and buckthorn. Senna and buckthorn also contain tannins, partly bound as glycosides. The ­most important active substances in aloe are aloin (20%), resin (40 to 80%) and also cinnamic acid, essential oils and proteins. Due to its chemical structure, aloin can be called anthraquinone glycoside as well as a bitter substance.
The effect of the anthraquinone glycoside ­in aloe is also based on the effects of the aglycone (the sugar-free part of the molecule). This is released when the entire molecule is split by intestinal bacteria. The intestinal peristalsis is stimulated and more mucus is secreted. Exactly the same thing happens with senna, rhubarb, buckthorn, in short with all plants from this group. But with aloe there is also the strong effect of the bitter substances. As a result, this plant has a major influence on the portal vein system of the abdomen ­(the portal vein absorbs all the veins in the abdomen and carries their blood to the liver). The chemical structures of the resins in aloe are also different from those in, for example, senna leaves. The intestinal ­fluid therefore increases. However, one must always be careful not to use large amounts of the aloe. This can lead to excessive blood flow in other parts of the body, and sometimes also inflammation . Pregnant women in particular ­should be particularly careful about this.

Dosage and possible side effects of the anthraquinones

By the way, all plants from this group must be dosed accurately. Incorrect ­use could lead to inflammation in the colon and other organs in the abdominal cavity. Aloe resins are a good remedy for short-term use in case of constipation. At a dose of 0.2 – 0.5 grams, semi-solid stools ­without cramps will follow after eight to twelve hours. Preferably not to use for long periods of time. Habituation and even more constipation could be the result.

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