The Health Benefits of Senna Tea

Sipping it can have laxative effects

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Senna tea is a popular herbal treatment made from the leaves of the senna plant (typically Cassia acutifolia or Cassia angustifolia). The active ingredients are compounds called anthraquinones, which are powerful laxatives. Senna tea is also used by some for other indications, including weight loss.

There is some evidence linking senna to certain laxative benefits, but investigations involving the tea are lacking.

Possible Side Effects of Drinking Senna Tea
Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

Health Benefits

While a number of studies have tested the effects of senna in powder or capsule form, very few studies have looked at the potential health benefits of drinking senna tea.

Some proponents suggest that drinking the tea can promote detoxification and weight loss. To date, there is no evidence that senna tea can provide those benefits.

The use of laxatives isn't considered a safe way to lose weight or reduce body fat.

Most scientific studies investigating the health benefits of senna focus on its potential for 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, promoting colon contractions and bowel movements.

Senna also prevents water and electrolytes from being reabsorbed from the colon, which increases fluid in the intestines and softens stool.

However, a large research review published in the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology did not identify senna as a first course of action in the treatment of constipation. Study authors said that the quality of evidence supporting the use of senna is low.

They also cited concerns regarding the fact that doses vary depending on preparation and not enough is known about the safety or efficacy of long-term use.

Colonoscopy Prep

Senna has been used in conjunction with other agents for colon cleansing prior to undergoing colonoscopy.

Colonoscopy is a type of medical procedure widely used in screening for colon cancer. Some evidence supports this use, although much of it dates back to the 1980s and 1990s.

Other Gastrointestinal Disorders

Senna tea is sometimes used for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and bloating. But there is not enough scientific evidence to support the use of senna tea or other senna preparations to treat these conditions.

Possible Side Effects

Side effects are generally mild and limited when senna tea is used for the short-term treatment of constipation.

The most common side effects of using senna tea are:

  • Stomach discomfort
  • Cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Although, in some cases, senna tea may be used for a longer period of time when under medical supervision, there are concerns to be aware of.

Senna tea can be habit-forming with long-term use, as the body can become dependent on it for a bowel movement and no longer able to produce one on its own.

In addition, longer-term use of senna tea and higher doses have been linked to serious health problems such as liver injury, electrolyte disturbances, and changes in heart rhythms.

In a 2005 report from the Annals of Pharmacotherapy, a 52-year-old woman who reported ingesting one liter of senna tea every day for more than three years suffered acute liver failure. The report's authors determined that the patient's liver damage was likely the result of her excessive intake of senna tea.

Cautions and Contraindications

Do not take senna tea if you have:

If you have any type of heart, liver, or kidney condition, it's crucial that you consult your healthcare provider before using senna.

Likewise, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, consult your healthcare provider before using senna tea. Some studies have suggested that the use of senna does not increase the incidence of congenital abnormalities, but more studies are needed to know for sure.

Senna may interact with certain drugs and supplements. Taking senna with diuretics, for instance, may cause potassium levels in the body to become too low.

Selection and Preparation

Senna tea is widely available in health food stores, vitamin shops, and online. There is no standardized dose, though scientific studies suggest that you should not take more than 34.4 milligrams (mg) twice daily.

When researchers have studied it for the treatment of general constipation, the usual dose is 17.2 milligrams (mg) daily. In older adults, 17 mg daily has been used. For constipation following pregnancy, 28 mg in two divided doses has been used.

But there are some challenges with determining the dose 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. Specific amounts of each herb contained in the tea are not listed, so you have no way of knowing what you are getting.

Experience with one tea can't necessarily be applied to use of another either, as the amount of active ingredient varies from product to product. Some senna teas are also combined with other stimulant laxative herbs—such as cascara sagrada or rhubarb—whose effects must also be considered.

Even if the amount of the active compound in each teabag was listed, it would be nearly impossible to accurately determine the dose your cup of tea contains. Steeping time and water temperature can affect the amount of senna released into the brew.

Using an over-the-counter senna drug product with a standardized dose (rather than senna tea) will give you a more precise amount, making it less likely that you'll get more than your intended dose.

If you're still considering trying 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, creating the urge to defecate the next morning.

Finally, not everyone responds to senna tea. If you don't notice a difference in your stools after taking the recommended amount, don't increase your intake as it could result in unwanted effects.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

    In studies, a number of natural approaches have shown promise for treating and preventing constipation, including:

  • Is it OK to drink senna tea every day?

    This may not be advisable, based on precautions issued by the Food and Drug Administration for senna in capsule form. The concern is long-term or frequent use of senna might interfere with normal bowel function.

  • What does senna tea taste like?

    It's been described as 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 bitterness.

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8 Sources
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