Emodin, a compound with putative antidiabetic potential, deteriorates glucose tolerance in rodents

Eur J Pharmacol. 2017 Mar 5;798:77-84. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2017.01.022. Epub 2017 Jan 18.


Emodin is found in remedies from Traditional Chinese Medicine. Since antihyperglycaemic action was observed in rodents, non-scientific sources advertise emodin intake as a natural cure for diabetes. Emodin was admixed to high fat-food of obese mice at two doses (2 and 5g/kg; daily emodin uptake 103 and 229mg/kg). Comparison was made to ad libitum fed and to food restricted control groups, the latter showing the same weight gain as the corresponding emodin-treated groups. Emodin blunted food intake by 6% and 20% for the low and high dose, which was accompanied by proportionate reductions in weight gain. Emodin reduced blood glucose relative to freely feeding controls, but comparison to weight-matched controls unmasked deterioration, rather than improvement, of basal glycaemia (mmol/l: fed ad libitum, 9.5±0.4; low emodin, 9.4±0.3, weight-matched, 8.2±0.3; high emodin, 7.2±0.4, weight-matched, 6.1±0.3; P<0.01, emodin vs weight-matched) and glucose tolerance (area under the curve, min*mol/l: fed ad libitum, 2.01±0.08; low emodin, 1.97±0.12, weight-matched, 1.75±0.03; high emodin, 1.89±0.07, weight-matched, 1.65±0.05; P<0.0002, emodin vs weight-matched). An insulin tolerance test suggested insulin desensitisation by prolonged emodin treatment. Furthermore, a single oral emodin dose did not affect glucose tolerance in obese mice, whereas intravenous injection in rats suggested a potential of emodin to acutely impair insulin release. Our results show that the antihyperglycaemic action of emodin as well as associated biochemical alterations could be the mere consequences of a spoilt appetite. Published claims of antidiabetic potential via other mechanisms evoke the danger of misuse of natural remedies by diabetic patients.

Keywords: Appetite; Body Weight; Diabetes; Emodin; Emodin (PubChem CID: 3220); Glucose.

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / drug effects
  • Adipose Tissue / pathology
  • Animals
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism*
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Eating / drug effects
  • Emodin / blood
  • Emodin / pharmacology*
  • Glucose Tolerance Test
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / blood
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Insulin / blood
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Obesity / blood
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / pathology
  • Rats


  • Blood Glucose
  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Insulin
  • Emodin