The Health Benefits of Senna Tea

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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 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. Additionally, 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 fluids in the intestines and softens stool.

However, a large research review published in the Canadien 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.

Senna is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an over-the-counter (OTC) laxative in the United States. A prescription is not required to purchase senna.

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 used for the short-term treatment of constipation. Stomach discomfort, cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting are the most common side effects.

If you have Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, appendicitis, senna allergy, diarrhea, dehydration, abdominal pain, or a condition that causes intestinal obstruction, you shouldn't take senna tea. If you have any type of heart, liver, or kidney condition, it's crucial that you consult your doctor before using senna.

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.

Although in some cases, senna tea may be used for a longer period of time when under medical supervision, 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 reported to have ingested one liter of senna tea every day for more than three years and 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.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, consult your health care 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.

Selection, Preparation & Storage

Senna tea is widely available in health food stores, vitamin shops, and online. Often the tea leaves are combined with other ingredients, so it is important to read product labels before purchasing.

Unfortunately, many tea sellers provide a supplement facts label on the box but it may claim to provide a "proprietary blend." Specific amounts for each herb contained in the tea are not listed, so you have no way of knowing the specific dose of senna.

Also, there is no standardized dose of senna. When researchers have studied it for the treatment of general constipation, the usual dose is 17.2 mg daily. Scientific studies suggest that you should not take more than 34.4 mg twice daily. In elderly people, 17 mg daily has been used. For constipation following pregnancy, 28 mg in two divided doses has been used.

The challenge with taking senna tea is that, unlike capsules, it is difficult to control the dosage when brewing a cup of tea. Even if the amount of the active compound in each teabag were to be listed, the steeping time would affect the dosage.

Also, the amount of active ingredient varies from product to product, and some senna tea products are combined with other stimulant laxative herbs such as cascara sagrada or rhubarb.

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 the desired 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.

Common Questions

What does senna tea taste like?

Many describe senna tea as being slightly sweet with bitter undertones. But the taste of the tea you buy might vary based on other ingredients. Some people add honey or mix senna tea with green tea for a more palatable flavor.

Are there other natural treatments for constipation?

If you or someone you know is experiencing constipation, it's a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider if you haven't already. There are many causes of constipation, and some can be effectively treated with other measures like adding certain high fiber foods to your diet. In some cases, constipation may signal an underlying condition such as a thyroid disorder. Treating the underlying condition may provide relief from constipation. 

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