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Slippery Elm: Uses and Risks

Slippery elm is a tree that grows in North America. For centuries, Native Americans -- and later European settlers -- used its inner bark as a treatment for many conditions.

Why do people take slippery elm?

Slippery elm has not been well-studied. There's some evidence that it may help with certain cold symptoms. One study found that sucking on slippery elm lozenges may help ease a sore throat.

Slippery elm contains mucilage. This is a sticky substance that can't be digested. Mucilage seems to help improve bowel regularity. Slippery elm may help people with constipation due to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), one small study showed. More research is needed.

Some people use slippery elm ointments to soothe skin ulcers and cold sores. There's not enough research to know if they really help.

Slippery elm is an ingredient in an herbal cancer treatment called Essiac. There's no evidence that it has any benefit, though.

Standard doses of slippery elm have not been set for any condition. Ingredients in supplements may vary widely. This makes it very hard to set a standard dose.

Can you get slippery elm naturally from foods?

Slippery elm bark is edible. Some manufacturers add slippery elm to throat lozenges, baby foods, and nutrition drinks.

What are the risks?

Tell your doctor about any supplements you're taking, even if they're natural. That way, your doctor can check on any potential side effects or interactions with medications.

Side effects. Slippery elm supplements seem to be safe for most adults. It can cause allergic reactions in sensitive people. Slippery elm ointment on the skin can sometimes cause a rash.

Risks. Slippery elm may not be safe for children or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Pregnant women especially should not use slippery elm. Traditionally, people thought it could cause miscarriages

Interactions. Slippery elm may slow down how quickly your body absorbs medications. If you take any medications regularly, talk to your doctor before you start using slippery elm supplements.

Supplements are not regulated by the FDA.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on February 06, 2013

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