Senna is an herb with potent properties. It is a plant whose leaves and fruit are used to make medicine. Its primary role is as a laxative, and some research shows that when used in the right dosage, it may help in the treatment of constipation (1).
Research is ongoing to understand the major benefits of senna. Though traditional medicine has used senna to promote gastrointestinal health, there doesn’t seem to exist concrete evidence on the same. In this post, we will discuss senna and what its possible benefits could be.
Table Of Contents
What Are The Health Benefits Of Senna?
1. May Help Relieve 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 believed to be responsible for this property (2).
However, the fresh bark of the senna plant may cause nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Though senna has widely been used in the treatment of constipation, there is no research supporting its use in the management of chronic constipation (2).
Senna is also recommended to be used only occasionally. The long-term safety of its use is unclear (2).
Another report suggests that senna could be dangerous. Its leaves stimulate the nerves in the walls of the large intestines. This can cause intestinal contractions and electrolyte disturbances. One may also develop tolerance, which means higher doses are required to achieve similar effects (3).
The use of senna is not well-supported by clinical trials. Also, you may become dependent on senna if you take it for an extended period. Hence, please consult your doctor before you use senna to treat constipation.
2. May Treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
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, the passage of mucus, and a feeling of incomplete emptying (4).
Due to its laxative property, senna might help manage the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (5). How senna achieves this is yet to be studied, but some experts speculate that since the herb induces colon contractions, it may force the stool to move out.
However, senna is a stimulant laxative and may harm your bowel if taken for longer periods (6). Hence, please consult your doctor before taking senna.
The possible benefits of senna are yet to be extensively studied by the medical community. Most concerns of senna have to do with its dosage and long-term use. In the following section, we will see the side effects the overuse of senna may cause.
What Are The Side Effects Of Senna?
- Sudden weight loss
- 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).
Pregnant, nursing, and menstruating women should not use senna as there is no information on its safety. Avoid giving senna to children under twelve years.
People with intestinal blockage, IBD, intestinal ulcers, undiagnosed stomach pain, or appendicitis should also avoid senna (7).
Senna may also interact with certain drugs. If you are on medications, it is important you exercise caution.
What Are The Drug Interactions Of Senna?
Senna belongs to the cassia species, and most herbs from that species may 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 (9).
Analgesic, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, and steroidal drugs (Paracetamol, Ketoprofen, Estradiol, etc.) may also interact with senna leaves. They increase or decrease the absorption of these drugs (9).
When, how, and how much of senna should you take to avoid such side effects?
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 (8). Senna may not be safe to take daily, although the information is mixed in this aspect. Your doctor can guide you better. You may take it in the morning or evening, but this depends on your doctor’s advice.
Senna is available in the form of tablets, tea, and leaves. We strongly recommend you consult a doctor before taking senna in any form (including supplements). They might set a suitable dose for you or advise against it.
Though senna has been used in traditional medicine, its safety in humans is unclear. You may use it for a couple of days to a week for treating some abdominal issues, but there is no research on its efficacy and safety.
Hence, do not use senna without consulting your doctor. Products containing senna must be taken only after approval from an established medical professional.
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
What is senna tea? How long does it take to show benefits?
Senna tea is made by boiling the senna leaves in water. The tea could be a short-term treatment for constipation. However, its long-term use is not supported by science yet. Also, there is no information on how long the tea would take to show the desired results.
Please consult your doctor before taking any product made of senna, including its tea.
Does senna help with weight loss?
There is no evidence that it can help with weight loss. If you want to lose weight, there are certain methods to achieve that.
- Laxatives and the special role of senna, Pharmacology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Chronic constipation: Current treatment options, Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Assessment report on Senna alexandrina Mill. (Cassia
senna L.; Cassia angustifolia Vahl), folium and fructus
- Irritable bowel syndrome: Pathogenesis, diagnosis, treatment, and evidence-based medicine, World Journal of Gastroenterology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Irritable bowel syndrome, Nature reviews. Disease primers, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Constipation in older adults, College of Family Physicians of Canada, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Senna – A Medical Miracle Plant, Journal of Medicinal Plants Studies.
- Senna, LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury, National Center for Biotechnology Information.
- A Review on Cassia species: Pharmacological, Traditional and Medicinal
Aspects in Various Countries, American Journal of Phytomedicine and Clinical Therapeutics.
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