Anthranoid laxatives are widely used laxatives of natural origin. Because of their chemical structure they are carried unabsorbed to the large bowel, where metabolism to the active aglycones takes place. These aglycones exert their laxative effect by damaging epithelial cells, which leads directly and indirectly to changes in absorption, secretion and motility. Damaged epithelial cells can be found as apoptotic bodies in the pigmented colonic mucosa, characteristic for pseudomelanosis coli. Pseudomelanosis coli is a condition caused by chronic (ab)use of anthranoid laxatives and has recently been associated with an increased risk of colorectal carcinoma. In vitro and animal studies have shown a potential role of anthranoid laxatives in both the initiation and promotion of tumorigenesis. Studies in humans have also suggested tumour promoting activities for these laxatives. Although the short-term use of these substances is generally safe, long-term use cannot be recommended.