The stalk of the intensely flavored rhubarb plant has been used in European cooking since the 17th century. Prior to that, rhubarb species were utilized medicinally in
Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine
. Traditional uses include treatment of constipation, diarrhea, fever, menstrual problems, jaundice, sores (when applied topically), ulcers, and burns.
Although there are many species of rhubarb, the one most studied is
What Is Rhubarb Used for Today?
Rhubarb root contains lindleyin, a substance with estrogen-like properties.
On this basis, extracts of rhubarb have been tried for control of
. In a 12-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 109 women with menopause-related problems, use of a standardized
extract significantly improved symptoms as compared to placebo.
Improvements were particularly seen in rate and severity of hot flashes. While this is meaningful supporting evidence, additional independent trials will be necessary to establish this rhubarb extract as a safe and effective treatment for menopause.
Other potential uses of rhubarb lack reliable supporting evidence.
One human trial purportedly found evidence that rhubarb could reduce the impairment of lung function that may occur when people with lung cancer receive
However, this study suffered from a number of significant flaws, and its results cannot be regarded as reliable.
In another human trial, this one using a cream containing
and rhubarb, researchers failed to find more than modest benefits at most for the treatment of
Additional proposed uses of rhubarb are supported only by
test tube studies
. For example, various rhubarb species have shown hints of potential value for treatment of
The vast majority of effects seen in test tube studies do not pan out when human trials are conducted.
However, a review of 19 randomized trials did compare rhubarb and somatostatin to somatostatin alone in 1,161 patients with acute pancreatitis. The addition of rhubarb (given by gastric tube or retention enema) was associated with a reduced risk of complications, and shorter duration of abdominal pain, hospitalization, and time to first bowel movement. Rhubarb dosage ranged from 10-90 grams a day. Although the results were promising, all trials had biases that can affect the outcomes.17
A typical dosage of rhubarb root is ½ to l teaspoonful of the root boiled for 10 minutes in a cup of water, three times daily.
In the menopause study mentioned above, a standardized extract was used. Such extracts should be used according to label instructions.
As a widely consumed food, rhubarb is thought to be relatively safe if consumed in moderation. However, the plant contains high levels of oxalic acid, and rhubarb consumption can markedly increase oxalic acid levels in the urine.
This could lead to increased risk of
, as well as other problems. Rhubarb leaf contains the highest oxalic acid content. The roots and stems contain less oxalic acid, but higher levels of anthraquinones, laxative substances similar to those found in
or cascara. It is safest to use rhubarb standardized extracts processed to removed oxalic acid.
Contrary to some reports, consumption of rhubarb probably does not impair
Very weak evidence hints that excessive consumption of rhubarb could increase risk of stomach and/or colon cancer.
Maximum safe doses in pregnant or nursing women, young children, or people with severe liver or kidney disease have not been established.
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Mantani N, Sekiya N, Sakai S, et al. Rhubarb use in patients treated with Kampo medicines--a risk for gastric cancer?
Yu HM, Liu YF, Cheng YF, et al. Effects of rhubarb extract on radiation induced lung toxicity via decreasing transforming growth factor-beta-1 and interleukin-6 in lung cancer patients treated with radiotherapy.
Zhou Y, Wang L, Huang X, Li H, Xiong Y. Add-on effect of crude rhubarb to somatostatin for acute pancreatitis: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Ethnopharmacol. 201624;194:495-505.