Ingredients

Benefits And Risks Of Senna – The Tropical Laxative Plant

Medically reviewed by Lucas Aoun, Naturopathic doctor
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Benefits And Risks Of Senna – The Tropical Laxative Plant Hyderabd040-395603080 May 31, 2019

Constipation is one of the most common digestive problems in the US. Difficulty in  passing motion is the most irritating and unsettling feeling ever. A fiber-rich diet can only do so much. This is when you look at synthetic laxatives to come to your rescue. However, they do not work all that great. Have you tried natural laxatives? Meet senna.

Senna plant and its parts are used to ease bowel movement. This plant has been a part of traditional medicine and is well known for its potent laxative properties. Read on to find out how it affects your digestive and excretory systems. You will also find its right dosage and side effects in this article. Scroll down to get started!

What Is Senna?

Senna is a tropical plant. It belongs to the flowering family of Fabaceae. The most common and studied species are Cassia acutifolia (Alexandrian senna) and Cassia angustifolia (Indian or Tinnevelly senna). Folk medicine has used the extracts of the leaves, flowers, and fruit of senna for centuries as laxatives and stimulants (1).

The active components in senna extracts are anthraquinone derivatives and their glucosides, i.e., senna glycosides or sennosides. These are the causative molecules behind the benefits and side effects of senna.

Senna is used in many over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives in combination with other agents. By itself, senna is one of the non-prescription laxatives. You might find its herbal extract in drugs such as Ex-lax, Fletcher’s Castoria, and Senokot. If given in small doses, it is one of the best laxative formulas for children (2).

How does it work? Here’s the answer.

Mechanism Of Senna – How Does It Work?

The medicinal action of senna is attributed to the anthraquinone glycosides. The most abundant ones are sennosides A and B. About 2-3% of these derivatives are present in its leaves and pods.

These glycosides are not absorbed in the upper gut. They are converted to active aglycones like rhein-anthrone by the colon microflora (microorganisms). Such aglycone compounds exert a laxative effect on your colon (3).

Alternatively, the free aglycone can be absorbed into the bloodstream and secreted later into the colon. But this happens only in the presence of bile and sugar (3).

Sennosides might also prevent the stools from drying. They decrease the fluid absorption from the feces. And that’s how this plant demonstrates a potent laxative effect.

Let’s understand its benefits in detail. Scroll down!

What Are The Health Benefits Of Senna?

1. Relieves Chronic Constipation

Senna is used as a stimulant laxative in traditional medicine. It can be found in various herbal remedies like Black draught, Diasenna, Daffy’s Elixir, and herbal teas. Its active ingredients, i.e., anthraquinone glycosides are responsible for this property (4).

Its leaves stimulate the nerves in the walls of the large intestines. This can cause contractions (squeeze and pulsate) in the intestine. These contractions might be accompanied by fluids and electrolyte disturbance. This, ultimately, increases the speed (motility) of stools, reduces inflammation, and relieves chronic constipation (4), (5).

However, the use of senna is not well-supported by clinical trials. You might become dependent on senna if you take it for an extended period.

2. May Treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) And Symptoms

Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Disease (IBS or IBD) is characterized by chronic stomach ache. It is accompanied by abnormal bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, or both). The pain often begins after eating and subsides after a bowel movement. The symptoms of IBS are bloating, passage of mucus, and a feeling of incomplete emptying (6).

Due to its laxative property, senna might help manage irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This herb induces colon contractions because of which the bowel is forced to move out (7). Having small doses of senna can lower the bloating, stomach ache, and emptiness caused by IBS.

Remember, the magic of senna only works in small doses. High doses can lead to several adverse effects. Read more about this below.

What Are The Adverse Effects Of Senna?

Chronic use of senna leaves can lead to acute conditions include abdominal cramps and electrolyte disturbances. However, long-term use of stimulant laxatives like senna can lead to (3), (1):

  • Cramps
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Dizziness
  • Liver injury/damage
  • Hypokalemia (deficiency of potassium)
  • Pigmentation of the colonic mucosa and urine

Loss of potassium or its deficiency has a major ripple effect. It can cause muscle weakness and arrhythmia (dangerous changes in heart rhythm).

There is not much information regarding the safety of this herb for pregnant and nursing women. Hence, it is safe to avoid senna in such cases and if you are menstruating (3).

People with intestinal blockage, IBD, intestinal ulcers, undiagnosed stomach pain, or appendicitis should also avoid senna (3).

Does it interact with any drugs? Let’s find out!

What Are The Drug Interactions Of Senna?

Senna leaves or the plant extract can interact with certain classes of drugs. Don’t use blood thinners, anticoagulants, corticosteroids, and heart health medication when on senna. These drugs (like Warfarin and Digoxin) might enhance potassium loss (8).

Analgesic, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, and steroidal drugs (Paracetamol, Ketoprofen, Estradiol, etc.) might also interact with senna leaves. They increase or decrease the absorption of these drugs (8).

So, when, how, and how much of senna should you take to avoid such side effects?

How And How Much Of Senna Should You Take?

The typical dose of senna is about 15-30 mg twice a day. It is recommended that you use it for less than one week (1).

Senna is available in the form of tablets (Buy here!), tea (Buy here!), and leaves (Buy here!). We strongly recommend you consult a doctor before taking senna supplements. They might set a suitable dose for you or advice against it.

In Short…

Traditional laxatives like senna have been considered safe for human consumption. Small and short-term doses of senna are effective against chronic constipation, irritable bowel disease, and similar disorders. However, pregnant, lactating, and menstruating women need to be careful.

If you or your kids are dealing with constipation or similar issues, talk to your doctor about senna. Try making the simple senna tea for quick relief. Choose such natural supplements over synthetic drugs under medical guidance.

Tell us how it worked for you. You can share your experiences, feedback, and queries using the box below.

References

  1. SENNA” Drug Record, LiverTox, Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury, National Institutes of Health.
  2. Are Senna based laxatives safe when used as long…” Journal of Pediatric Surgery, US National Library of Medicine.
  3. Senna Laxative Use in Weight Control” Health Psychology Home Page, Vanderbilt University.
  4. Chronic constipation: Current treatment options” Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology, US National Library of Medicine.
  5. Laxative Use: What to Know” Cornell Health, Cornell University.
  6. Irritable Bowel Syndrome” The UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders, UNC School of Medicine.
  7. Irritable bowel syndrome” Author Manuscript, HHS Public Access, US National Library of Medicine.
  8. A Review on Cassia species: Pharmacological, Traditional and…” American Journal of Phytomedicine and Clinical Therapeutics.
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Swathi Handoo

Swathi holds a Master’s degree in Biotechnology and has worked in places where actual science and research happen. Blending her love for writing with science, Swathi writes for Health and Wellness and simplifies complex topics for readers from all walks of life.And on the days she doesn’t write, she learns and performs Kathak, sings Carnatic music compositions, makes plans to travel, and obsesses over cleanliness.