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Rhubarb is a plant. The root and underground stem (rhizome) are used to make medicine. The stalk of rhubarb is also consumed as food. Traditional Chinese medicine commonly uses rhubarb alone or in combination with other ingredients.

Rhubarb is used for digestive complaints including constipation, diarrhea, or stomach pain, symptoms of menopause, menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea), swelling (inflammation) of the pancreas, and many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.

In food, rhubarb stems are eaten in pie and other recipes. Rhubarb is also used as a flavoring agent.

Rhubarb contains several chemicals which might help heal cold sores and improve movement of the intestines. Some chemicals in rhubarb might reduce swelling. Rhubarb contains fiber that might reduce cholesterol levels.

When taken by mouth: Rhubarb stem is LIKELY SAFE when it is consumed as food. Rhubarb root and rhizome are POSSIBLY SAFE for most adults when taken in medicinal amounts for up to 2 years. Rhubarb stem is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken in medicinal amounts for up to 4 weeks. Rhubarb leaves are POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth. Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, which can cause abdominal pain, burning of the mouth and throat, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, seizures, and death.

Rhubarb leaves are POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth. Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, which can cause abdominal pain, burning of the mouth and throat, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, seizures, and death.

Rhubarb can cause some side effects such as stomach and intestinal pain, watery diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, rash, and uterine contractions. Long-term use can result in muscular weakness, bone loss, potassium loss, and irregular heart rhythm.

There is a report of kidney failure in someone who took a product containing rhubarb. But it's not known for sure if rhubarb was the actual cause of kidney failure.

When applied to the skin: Rhubarb is POSSIBLY SAFE when used for up to 14 days.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Rhubarb is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when used in amounts greater than those found in foods.

Diarrhea or constipation: Rhubarb can make diarrhea or constipation worse, depending on the preparation used.

Gastrointestinal (GI) conditions: Don't take rhubarb if you have a bowel obstruction; appendicitis; unexplained stomach pain; or inflammatory conditions of the intestines including Crohn's disease, colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Kidney disease: There is a chemical in rhubarb that might harm the kidneys. In fact, a supplement that contained rhubarb has been linked to one report of kidney failure. If you already have kidney disease, don't risk making it worse by taking rhubarb.

Kidney stones: Rhubarb contains a chemical that the body can convert into kidney stones. If you have ever had kidney stones, don't take rhubarb.

Liver problems: Rhubarb can make liver function worse in people who already have liver problems. People who have liver problems should avoid rhubarb.

Digoxin (Lanoxin)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

Rhubarb is a type of laxative called a stimulant laxative. Stimulant laxatives can decrease potassium levels in the body. Low potassium levels can increase the risk of side effects of digoxin (Lanoxin).

Medications for inflammation (Corticosteroids)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

Some medications for inflammation can decrease potassium in the body. Rhubarb is a type of laxative that might also decrease potassium in the body. Taking rhubarb along with some medications for inflammation might decrease potassium in the body too much.

Some medications for inflammation include dexamethasone (Decadron), hydrocortisone (Cortef), methylprednisolone (Medrol), prednisone (Deltasone), and others.

Medications taken by mouth (Oral drugs)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

Rhubarb is a laxative. Laxatives can decrease how much medicine your body absorbs. Decreasing how much medicine your body absorbs can decrease the effectiveness of your medication.

Medications that can harm the kidneys (Nephrotoxic Drugs)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

Taking rhubarb might harm the kidneys in some people. Some medications can also harm the kidneys. Taking rhubarb with medications that can harm the kidneys might increase the chance of kidney damage.

Some of these medications that can harm the kidneys include cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune); aminoglycosides including amikacin (Amikin), gentamicin (Garamycin, Gentak, others), and tobramycin (Nebcin, others); nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Nuprin, others), indomethacin (Indocin), naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprelan, Naprosyn), piroxicam (Feldene); and numerous others.

Stimulant laxatives

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

Rhubarb is a type of laxative called a stimulant laxative. Stimulant laxatives speed up the bowels. Taking rhubarb along with other stimulant laxatives could speed up the bowels too much and cause dehydration and low minerals in the body.

Some stimulant laxatives include bisacodyl (Correctol, Dulcolax), cascara, castor oil (Purge), senna (Senokot), and others.

Warfarin (Coumadin)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

Rhubarb can work as a laxative. In some people rhubarb can cause diarrhea. Diarrhea can increase the effects of warfarin and increase the risk of bleeding. If you take warfarin do not to take excessive amounts of rhubarb.

Water pills (Diuretic drugs)

Interaction Rating=Moderate Be cautious with this combination.

Rhubarb is a laxative. Some laxatives can decrease potassium in the body. "Water pills" can also decrease potassium in the body. Taking rhubarb along with "water pills" might decrease potassium in the body too much.

Some "water pills" that can decrease potassium include chlorothiazide (Diuril), chlorthalidone (Thalitone), furosemide (Lasix), hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ, HydroDiuril, Microzide), and others.

Calcium: Rhubarb contains a chemical that can bind with calcium, leaving smaller amounts of calcium free and available for use by the body. If you take rhubarb, you might need to boost your intake of calcium to get enough.
Herbs and supplements that might harm the liver: There is some concern that rhubarb might harm the liver. Using rhubarb along with other products that might harm the liver could raise the risk of dangerous liver damage. Some of these products include androstenedione, chaparral, comfrey, DHEA, germander, niacin, pennyroyal oil, red yeast, and others.
Herbs that contain cardiac glycosides: Overuse of rhubarb might cause the body to lose too much potassium. This could leave the heart more vulnerable to the harmful effects of chemicals called cardiac glycosides that are found in some herbs. Herbs that contain cardiac glycosides include black hellebore, Canadian hemp root, digitalis leaf, hedge mustard, figwort, lily of the valley roots, motherwort, oleander leaf, pheasant's eye plant, pleurisy root, squill bulb leaf scales, and strophanthus seeds.
Horsetail: There is a concern that using rhubarb along with horsetail might increase the risk of losing too much potassium.
Iron: Rhubarb contains a chemical that can bind with iron, leaving smaller amounts of iron free and available for use by the body. If you take rhubarb, you might need to boost your intake of iron to get enough.
Licorice: There is a concern that using rhubarb along with licorice might increase the risk of losing too much potassium.
Stimulant laxative herbs: Rhubarb is a stimulant laxative, and like other laxatives, it causes the body to lose potassium. There is a concern that using it with other herbs that are stimulant laxatives might cause the body to lose too much potassium. Stimulant laxative herbs include aloe, alder buckthorn, black root, blue flag, butternut bark, colocynth, European buckthorn, fo ti, gamboge, gossypol, greater bindweed, jalap, manna, Mexican scammony root, senna, and yellow dock.
Zinc: Rhubarb contains a chemical that can bind with zinc, leaving smaller amounts of zinc free and available for use by the body. If you take rhubarb, you might need to boost your intake of zinc to get enough.

Calcium-containing foods: Rhubarb contains a chemical that can bind with calcium, leaving smaller amounts of calcium free and available for use by the body. If you take rhubarb, you might need to boost your intake of calcium to get enough.
Iron-containing foods: Rhubarb contains a chemical that can bind with iron, leaving smaller amounts of iron free and available for use by the body. If you take rhubarb, you might need to boost your intake of iron to get enough.
Zinc-containing foods: Rhubarb contains a chemical that can bind with zinc, leaving smaller amounts of zinc free and available for use by the body. If you take rhubarb, you might need to boost your intake of zinc to get enough.

The following doses have been studied in scientific research:

BY MOUTH:

  • For symptoms of menopause: A specific rhubarb root dry extract (ERr 731, Anderson Global Group) 4 mg per day for up to 2 years.
  • For swelling (inflammation) of the pancreas (pancreatitis): Rhubarb powder 6 to 45 grams daily in warm water given by a healthcare provider through a tube going directly into the small intestine for up to one week.
APPLIED TO THE SKIN:
  • For canker sores: A solution containing 5% rhubarb extract applied to the sore one time.
  • For cold sores (herpes labialis): Cream containing rhubarb extract 23 mg and sage extract 23 mg in every gram of cream, applied every 2 to 4 hours while awake. Treatment starts within one day after symptoms appear and continues for 10 to 14 days.

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