Senna is a herb that's derived from the senna plant. This natural herbal medicine consists of several different parts of the senna plant, including the fruit, flowers and leaves of the plant.
For centuries, senna leaves have been used to make teas and extracts that can help to stimulate the digestive system, producing a laxative effect. This plant originated in Egypt, but can now be found growing all over the world, especially in countries like Somolia and India.
There are several different types of senna, but the majority of commercial senna products use ingredients from cassia acutifolia or cassia angustifolia, known also as Indian and Alexandrian senna. You can make your own senna tea from the plant, but it's easier to buy senna tea from your local health store or online.
Typically, senna is used as a short-term laxative, but it is often abused for its supposed "weight-loss benefits". This article will look at the proven benefits of senna leaves, their uses, and the potential side effects of senna.
1. Treats Constipation
The most common use of senna leaves is as a treatment for constipation. In medically-reviewed research, senna has found to contain specific compounds that have a laxative effect in the human body. They react with the lining of the colon, irritating it and causing it to contract.
Senna is beneficial to digestion in another way, too - it can prevent the colon from reabsorbing electrolytes and water, which helps to naturally add more water to the intestines, softening stool. With that said, there's little evidence to support the use of senna tea for constipation, and we don't have enough information to say exactly how much should be taken for constipation, and how it may affect the body with long-term use.
It may even be less effective in the bowel after so much use. For that reason, senna tea should only ever be used by adults and children as a one-off treatment for occasional constipation.
2. Used For Colonoscopy Prep
If you're preparing for a colonoscopy, you may be advised by your doctor to use a laxative medication made from senna leaves to cleanse your body beforehand.
Colonoscopies can be carried out for a number of reasons, most commonly to screen for colon cancer. Senna medication has been used for nearly 50 years in colonoscopy prep, so it clearly does the job, but again, there's little scientific evidence to support its efficacy in this role.
3. May Treat Gastrointestinal Disorders
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is characterized by chronic stomach cramping and digestive issues, including constipation, diarrhea, or a combination of the two. It can be incredibly debilitating to live with, although it affects different people in different ways, with some people getting more frequent "flare-ups" than others. Common IBS symptoms include bloating and gas, abdominal pain, and incomplete emptying.
Senna is used as a natural digestive aid for people who suffer from IBS-C, where constipation is a main symptom. Many people find that drinking senna tea on a daily basis keeps them regular because of senna's laxative property. Of course, senna isn't a good solution for people who have IBS-D, where diarrhea is a main symptom.
The evidence we have so far about senna leaves for IBS is limited. We know that senna is a natural laxative, but it isn't properly understood how senna can help people with IBS-C in particular. What we know so far suggests that it may be senna's ability to stimulate colon contractions that forces the stool to move out.
It's important to keep in mind that, being a stimulant laxative, senna is only intended for occasional use, and may cause issues when taken frequently. For that reason, it's not a good idea to take senna on a daily basis to treat digestive disorders such as IBS. It may have serious side effects if taken for longer periods, and you may become so used to taking the senna that you come to rely on it for bowel movement.
Senna's Possible Side Effects
The common side effects of senna appear to be relatively mild. Provided you're only taking senna for short-term treatment of constipation, you shouldn't experience any serious side effects.
Some of the common side effects of using senna tea are:
- Bowel/ abdominal discomfort & cramps
These side effects are fairly expected, considering senna is used to treat and relieve constipation, which may cause diarrhea.
With these side effects in mind, make sure you only use senna on a long-term basis with your doctor's permission. Your doctor may advise that you use senna for long periods of time on rare occasions, and they'll provide medical supervision to ensure you're not at risk. You should always seek advice, diagnosis or treatment from your doctor before you use senna on a regular basis, to avoid laxative dependence.
Because senna may be habit-forming, it's important that you don't rely on senna for bowel movement or drink senna tea on a daily basis. Long-term use of senna to help relieve constipation may increase the risk of liver damage and heart problems, as well as electrolyte disturbances.
One medically reviewed 2005 report found that a woman who ingested one liter of senna per day for more than 3 years ended up suffering from acute liver failure. It was determined by the authors of the report that the patient's excessive senna tea consumption was most likely to blame for her liver damage.
Senna's Cautions and Contraindications
In the case of certain situations, senna shouldn't be used to treat constipation. Don't drink senna tea if you have digestive health conditions such as chron's disease or ulcerative colitis. You also shouldn't consume senna tea if you have appendicitis or a health condition that may cause intestinal blockage.
Don't consume senna if you have diarrhea or abdominal pain, or if you're dehydrated. Finally, it goes without saying that if you have a known senna allergy, you shouldn't be drinking senna tea.
Consult your doctor or healthcare provider before using senna tea if you have a liver, heart disease or kidney condition, as medically-reviewed research suggests that senna may cause health problems with these organs when consumed regularly.
Additionally, pregnant women or breastfeeding mums should speak to their doctor before they drink senna tea for bowel movement benefits. Senna may be helpful in treating digestive health issues relating to pregnancy on a short-term basis, but there isn't enough research for us to know that cassia senna won't harm an unborn baby.
Emerging evidence also suggests that senna can cause issues when it's able to interact with certain health supplements and drugs. For example, when taking senna with diuretics, you may experience low potassium levels in the body.
Additionally, if you use birth control pills, some studies have found that senna may decrease their effectiveness. Again, speak to your healthcare provider if you're unsure about how senna's drug interactions may affect you.
How To Select & Prepare Senna
You can buy senna leaves for treating constipation online, usually dried, and you can use these to make your own tea. But if you want an easier way to take senna, you can buy it in health stores or online. Though there isn't currently a benchmark recommended dosage for senna, it's recommended not to take more than 34.4 milligrams (mg) on a twice-daily basis.
If you're just using senna for the treatment of general constipation, the usual dose is 17.2 milligrams on a daily basis. Older adults should take a slightly smaller dose of 17 milligrams. If you have constipation following pregnancy, 28-milligram doses, withtwo divided doses, is the most effective.
It can be hard to know how big your dose is if you're taking it in a cup of tea, especially as many senna tea manufacturers don't state exactly how much senna is in their products. That's why it's important not to assume that all senna teas are the same, as the amount of the ingredient may vary from product to product. This is especially the case if you're buying a senna blend tea product, which may combine senna with other natural stimulant laxatives that have additional effects.
It's wiser to use a senna supplement instead of senna tea, as it's usually clearer how much senna you're taking per dose. Brewing your own senna tea is the least recommended, as you'll have to make your own judgments on how much senna to add, which may result in excess consumption.
If you're still thinking of trying a store-bought senna tea, it's important to remember that it can take up to 12 hours to take effect, which is why it's recommended to take it at night before you go to bed.
The final thing to be aware of is that we all respond to senna tea differently, and some people don't react at all. If that's the case with you, don't think that increasing your dose will help, as it may produce harmful health effects.
Senna is an herb that has been used for hundreds of years as a traditional medicine, but it still remains unclear exactly how senna tea may be safely used by humans. We know that senna tea is fine to take for up to a couple of days at a time, but its safety when used consistently is questionable.
That's why it's important to consult your doctor before you use senna tea or products containing senna leaves.
What does senna tea taste like?
Senna tea is both sweet and bitter. Some people enjoy its taste, while others find it unpleasant. The exact flavor of senna tea depends on whether anything else has been added to the blend during manufacturing. You might want to add your own honey or combine this tea with another type of tea to make it taste better.
Are there other natural treatments for constipation?
If you're currently suffering from constipation, you first need to make sure you're drinking plenty of water, getting lots of exercise per day, and adding enough fiber to your diet. But, of course, chronic constipation can sometimes be caused by digestive disorders like IBS, and there's not a lot you can do about that.
It's always a good idea to speak to a medical professional about your health situation. They may be able to treat your condition using prescribed medication that's best for your needs. They may also be able to provide medical advice & diagnosis of the cause of your constipation, which may be an underlying condition like a thyroid disorder. In that case, your doctor will discuss methods of treating your underlying condition, which may ultimately be all you need to go back to being regular again.
Can senna leaves help with weight loss?
You may have noticed that senna tea is becoming more and more popular as a "metabolism-booster" or a weight loss supplement. Skinny teas and teatoxes commonly contain senna as a key ingredient.
It's worth being aware that detoxes and cleanses with senna-based products have no medically-reviewed scientific evidence to support their effectiveness or benefits. In fact, it might actually be dangerous to consume senna tea as a weight loss solution, especially as it's not recommended that you use the herb for long-term use, as it could cause laxative dependence.
If you’re trying to lose weight, it's always best to make dietary and lifestyle modifications to shed pounds the natural way. Using senna as a laxative isn't the best solution by far, and certainly won't offer the best benefits. Instead, reducing your calorie intake, making sure to stay physically active, and cutting down on sugary foods will help you to stay healthy while you lose weight.