What Is Senna Tea?

Sipping it may have laxative effects

Senna tea is made from the leaves of the senna plant. The most commonly used species are Cassia acutifolia or Cassia angustifolia.

Studies have shown that senna can have laxative benefits. The active ingredients are compounds called anthraquinones, which are sennosides (agents that treat constipation). The use of senna has been discovered in ancient writings describing several effects, including laxative effects.

This article discusses the benefits of senna tea and how to prepare it. It also covers the side effects and any possible risks associated with long-term senna use.

Dietary supplements are not regulated in the United States, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. When possible, choose a supplement that has been tested by a third party, such as USP (United States Pharmacopeia), Consumer Labs or NSF International.

However, even if supplements are third-party tested, they are not necessarily safe for all or effective in general. It is important to talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and check in about any potential interactions with other supplements or medications.

Supplement Facts

  • Active Ingredient(s): Anthraquinones (sennosides)
  • Alternate name(s): Cassia senna, Alexandrian senna, Senna alexandrina
  • Legal Status: Legal in the United States
  • Suggested Dose: 17.2 milligrams (mg) daily for up to one week
  • Safety Considerations: Decreases potassium levels, changes in electrolyte levels, cardiac effects, risk of liver damage, risk of dependency, interactions (digoxin, warfarin, other laxatives)
Possible Side Effects of Drinking Senna Tea
Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

Uses of Senna

Supplemental use should be discussed with healthcare professionals such as registered dietitians, pharmacists, or doctors. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease.

Multiple studies have tested the effects of senna in powder or capsule form. There are very few studies about the potential health benefits of drinking senna tea. Most of the research studies on the health benefits of senna focus on its possible use in the treatment of constipation and other gastrointestinal disorders.

Constipation

Senna tea is most commonly used for occasional constipation. Researchers have found that the active compounds in senna have a strong laxative effect. They work by irritating the lining of the colon. This promotes colon contractions and bowel movements.

Senna also prevents water and electrolytes from being reabsorbed from the colon. This increases the amount of fluid in the intestines and softens the stool.

In a systematic review (a summary of medical literature on a specific topic) of 41 studies, evidence emerged supporting the use of senna as a first-line choice for use in constipation.

Adequate doses of senna can vary depending on the product and preparation. Long-term use is not recommended due to the risk of becoming dependent on senna to have a bowel movement and the risk of liver damage.

Colonoscopy Prep

Senna has been used along with other agents to clean the colon prior to a colonoscopy, a medical procedure used in screening for colon cancer. Evidence reveals this use of senna, with other agents, improves the cleansing of the colon. It's important to note that since senna was used in combination with other agents in the study, it's hard to say what effects senna has alone for colonoscopy prep.

Other Gastrointestinal Disorders

Senna is sometimes used for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). When looking specifically at irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C), however, there is minimal research supporting the safe use of senna. But there is no scientific evidence to support the use of senna tea or other senna products to treat these conditions.

What Are the Side Effects of Senna?

When senna is used as a short-term treatment of constipation, side effects are generally mild and limited. When taken for an extended period of time or in large amounts, senna may cause dependency or affect the liver.

Common Side Effects

The most common side effects of senna tea are:

  • Stomach discomfort
  • Cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bloating

People who may want to try senna should be aware of concerns about its use. they should stop taking the supplement if there are signs of side effects and report any signs of side effects to their healthcare provider. In some cases, senna tea may be used for a longer period of time when a person is under the care of a healthcare provider. Be aware that when used for extended periods of time, senna may have more severe side effects.

Severe Side Effects

It is recommended to take senna for only one week. Using senna for long-term use, as well as higher doses, has been linked to serious health problems. Severe side effects include:

  • Liver injury
  • Electrolyte disturbances
  • Changes in heart rhythms

In a 2005 report, a 52-year-old woman reported using a liter of senna tea every day for more than three years. She was then diagnosed with acute liver failure. The report's authors found that the patient's liver damage was likely due to her excessive intake of senna tea.

If you experience signs of severe side effects stop taking the supplement and report these signs to a healthcare provider.

Precautions

Do not take senna tea if you have:

  • Crohn's disease (a type of irritable bowel disease, or IBD)
  • Ulcerative colitis (a type of IBD)
  • Appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix)
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Abdominal pain
  • A condition that causes intestinal obstruction
  • An allergy to senna

If you have any type of heart, liver, or kidney condition, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before using senna.

Likewise, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, seek a provider's advice before using senna tea. Limited research has suggested that the use of senna does not lead to a higher rate of birth defects, but more studies are needed to know for sure.

Senna may interact with certain drugs and supplements. Taking senna with diuretics (water pills, which rid the body of salt and water), for instance, may cause potassium levels in the body to be unbalanced.

Dosage: How Much Senna Should I Take?

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs.

Senna tea is widely available in health food stores, vitamin shops, and online. There is no standardized dose. When researchers have studied it for the treatment of general constipation, the usual dose is 15 milligrams (mg) daily. In older adults, 17 mg daily has been used. For constipation during pregnancy, it may be safe.

With senna, though, it can be hard to know how much you're getting in a cup of tea and how it will affect you. Many tea sellers list the use of a "proprietary blend" on their product labels. They do not list the amount of each herb in the tea, so you have no way of knowing how much senna is in it.

It would still be hard to know the exact dose found in your cup of tea, even if you know the amount of senna in a product. Steeping time and water temperature can change the amount of senna that is released into the brew.

What's true about the use of one tea isn't always true of another, either. The amount of active ingredients varies from one product to the next. Some senna teas are blended with other laxative herbs, like cascara sagrada or rhubarb. Their effects must be taken into account too. When possible, choose a supplement that has been third-party tested by NSF or USP.

If you still want to try senna tea, keep in mind that it typically starts working within six to 12 hours after taking it. It is often taken prior to going to bed. This means that you are likely to feel the urge to have a bowel movement in the morning.

What Happens If I Take Too Much Senna?

It is not recommended to take senna for longer than one week. Taking senna for longer than one week is only advised if under the care of a healthcare provider. 

Using senna for extended periods of time can lead to dependency. The intestine may not function properly and successful bowel movements may not occur without senna.

Taking increased amounts of senna can lead to liver toxicity. It can also result in diarrhea and bloating. In some cases, overuse of senna can cause painful abdominal cramping.

Interactions

Senna acts as a laxative. This can result in decreased levels of potassium. Diuretics can have the same effect on the body. Taking diuretics along with senna can decrease levels of potassium in the body.

Also, because of its laxative properties, it is not recommended to take the heart medication digoxin along with senna. Doing so could increase the risk of side effects from digoxin. The effects of blood thinners like Jantoven (warfarin) can be increased for the same reason.

Taking senna with other laxative herbs may cause increased diarrhea. This can decrease potassium levels. Potassium levels may also be decreased when senna is taken with licorice and horsetail.

It is essential to carefully read the ingredient list and nutrition facts panel of a supplement to know which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included. Please review the supplement label with your healthcare provider to discuss any potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications before you begin using this supplement.

How to Store Senna Tea

There are many different suggestions on how to store tea. When considering how to store senna tea, it is best to follow the manufacturer's storage recommendation.

Similar Supplements

Senna is known to have laxative effects. Supplements similar to senna share this same property. Some similar supplements are:

  • Aloe (a cactus-like plant)
  • Magnesium (mineral crucial to body functions)
  • Rhubarb (a perennial vegetable with fleshy, edible stalks)

Senna and these similar supplements can all have laxative effects. It is not recommended to take senna along with these similar supplements. Taking senna with these supplements can result in diarrhea and low potassium levels.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are some other natural alternatives to laxatives for treating constipation?

    According to a review, several natural approaches have shown promise for treating and preventing constipation, including:

    • Eating more fiber
    • Drinking adequate fluids
    • Exercising regularly
    • Taking psyllium (a form of soluble fiber)
    • Taking probiotics (foods or supplements that contain live microorganisms that help maintain good bacteria in the body)
    • Using biofeedback (effective for people with functional disorders that make it difficult to move their bowels)
  • Is it OK to drink senna tea every day?

    Maybe not, based on precautions issued by the FDA for senna in capsule form. The concern is that long-term or frequent use of senna might interfere with normal bowel function.

  • What does senna tea taste like?

    It's been described as having a slightly sweet with bitter undertones, although the flavor is likely to vary based on the brand and added ingredients—and, of course, individual palates. As with any tea, adding a sweetener such as honey may mask the bitterness.

Sources of Senna and What to Look For

Senna is available in many forms. Senna is available as liquids, and tablets. You can find them over the counter (OTC, without a prescription) at drugstores, groceries, and nutrition stores. Senna tablets can also be found online. 

Senna can come in tea form. As noted above, it is widely available but the amount of senna in the tea is unknown.

Senna Supplements

The pods or leaves of the senna (Cassia acutifolia or Cassia angustifolia) plant can be used as supplements. Senna is usually taken by mouth. Senna is available as chewable tablets, liquid, powder, tablets, or tea. Avoid taking multiple types of senna at the same time.

If you consider taking a senna supplement, talk with a healthcare provider about which type would be best for you. Only take the kind of senna supplement your healthcare provider recommends.

Do not give supplements to children without first discussing them with your child's pediatrician.

Originally written by
Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong

Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.

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