The Health Benefits of Senna Tea

Sipping it can have laxative effects

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. These are powerful laxatives. Some people use senna tea for other reasons, such as weight loss. There is some evidence linking senna to certain laxative benefits but the research is limited.

This article presents what is known, though, about the benefits of senna tea and how to prepare it. It also talks about side effects, as well as any possible risks associated with long-term senna use.

Possible Side Effects of Drinking Senna Tea
Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

Health Benefits of Senna

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. Most of the research studies on the health benefits of senna focus on its potential use in the treatment of constipation and other gastrointestinal disorders.

Some proponents suggest that drinking the tea can help with weight loss. To date, there is no evidence that senna tea offers this benefit. It's also important to note that the use of laxatives isn't considered a safe way to lose weight or reduce body fat.

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.

However, a large research review published in the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology did not recommend senna as a first course of action for treating constipation. The study author said that the quality of evidence supporting the use of senna is low.

Another concern is that the effective dosage can vary depending on the product and preparation. The author said not enough is known about whether long-term use is safe and effective.

Colonoscopy Prep

Senna has been used along with other agents to clean the colon prior to a colonoscopy. This is a medical procedure widely used in screening for colon cancer. Some evidence supports this use of senna, 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 products to treat these conditions.

Recap

Most of the research on senna tea is focused on its use in treating constipation. It is known to have laxative properties. Other uses include relief for IBS symptoms and bowel prep before a colonoscopy. There is little research evidence to suggest senna tea offers these benefits, or is the most effective and safe way to stimulate bowel movements.

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

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. That said, people who may want to try senna should be aware of concerns about its use.

Senna tea can be habit-forming with long-term use. The body can become dependent on it and no longer be able to produce a bowel movement without it.

Longer-term use of senna tea, as well as higher doses, have been linked to serious health problems. They include liver injury, electrolyte disturbances, and changes in heart rhythms.

In a 2005 report from the Annals of Pharmacotherapy, 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.

Cautions and Contraindications

Do not take senna tea if you have:

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 their 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, for instance, may cause potassium levels in the body to become too low.

Recap

Senna tea can be used in the short term with typically mild side effects, such as nausea and diarrhea. But long-term use may cause your body to need it in order to have a bowel movement.

Longer-term uses of senna tea should be monitored by your healthcare provider. People with certain digestive system disorders should avoid senna tea use. If you have a heart, liver, or kidney condition, you also should speak to your provider before using it.

Selection and Preparation

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 17.2 milligrams (mg) daily. In older adults, 17 mg daily has been used. For constipation after pregnancy, 28 mg in divided doses has been used.

With senna, though, it can be hard to know what 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. 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.

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

What's true about the use of one tea isn't always true of another, either. The amount of active ingredient 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.

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.

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.

Summary

Senna tea contains compounds known to have a strong laxative effect. That's why some people use it to relieve constipation or deal with IBS symptoms, despite the fact that there's little research to confirm its benefits. One of the biggest concerns about senna tea is long-term use. The body can develop a dependency on senna. It also has side effects that may be unpleasant.

Another problem with senna tea is true of many supplement products. There is no standard dose and it's hard to know how much senna you're actually getting. It may be better to try senna in a different form other than tea. Be sure to choose a product from a reputable company, and talk to your healthcare provider about senna tea and other supplements you may be taking.

A Word From Verywell

Senna tea does not work for everyone who tries it. If you don't notice a difference in your stools after taking the recommended amount, don't increase your intake. This could result in unwanted effects. Talk to your healthcare provider about your next steps.

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:

    • Eating more fiber
    • Adequate fluid intake
    • Regular exercise
    • Psyllium
    • Probiotics
    • 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 Food and Drug Administration 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 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.

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8 Sources
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