Some substances belonging to a group of plant ingredients known as hydroxyanthracene derivatives can damage DNA and may cause cancer, said European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) after assessing their safety when added to food.
This group of substances naturally occurs in plants such as aloe or senna species.
Extracts containing them are used in food supplements for their laxative effect.
In 2013, EFSA found that hydroxyanthracene derivatives in food can improve bowel function, but advised against long-term use and consumption at high doses due to potential safety concerns.
The European Commission subsequently asked EFSA to assess the safety of these plant ingredients when used in foods, and provide advice on a daily intake not associated with adverse health effects.
Based on the available data, EFSA concluded that certain hydroxyanthracene derivatives are genotoxic (they can damage DNA).
Therefore it was not possible to set a safe daily intake.
When tested in animal studies, some of these substances have been shown to cause cancer in the intestine.
These conclusions are in line with previous assessments on the botanical sources of these substances by other European and international bodies, including the World Health Organization, the European Medicines Agency and, most recently, Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment.