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Cathartics are among the most ancient of all medicinal agents, rhubarb having been in use among the Chinese for more than forty-five centuries; senna and aloes were also used in ancient times.Liebig supposed that saline cathartics in concentrated solution withdrew water from the blood by osmosis, thus maintaining the feces in a liquid or semi-liquid state. This idea gave place to Schmiedeberg's theory, which attributes purgation to the fact that the purgative salts, being slowly absorbed in the small intestine, come into the large intestine, where they prevent absorption of the intestinal contents, thus keeping the feces soft.Heidenhain concluded that osmotic pressure and physiologic activity of epithelium are concerned in absorption from the intestine, and that the retardation of absorption by salts is due to a lessening of physiologic activity.Wallace and Cushny studied the action of cathartics on absorption from the intestine, and found
THE PHARMACOPEIA AND THE PHYSICIAN.. JAMA. 1906;XLVI(5):357–360. doi:10.1001/jama.1906.62510320043002