The Scoop on Senna Tea

Should you sip senna tea?

Family: Caesalpinaceae Local name: Senna; Sunamukhi (Telugu) Distribution: Found in India. Photographed at Eastren ghats of Nellore district. The dried leaves and pods are used as laxative.
Lalithamba/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Senna tea is a type of herbal infusion. Typically made from the leaves of the senna plant, senna tea is often used for constipation.

Why Do People Take Senna Tea?

Senna contains compounds called anthraquinones, which are powerful laxatives. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved senna as a nonprescription laxative. Additionally, senna has been used for cleansing the bowel prior to undergoing colonoscopy (a type of medical procedure widely used in screening for colon cancer) when used in conjunction with other agents.

Some proponents suggest that drinking senna tea can promote detox, as well as stimulate weight loss.

Research on Senna Tea

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

The available research includes a small study published in Investigative Radiology in 2005. For the study, 12 volunteers consumed either senna tea or erythromycin (an antibiotic used to treat certain bacterial infections). While both treatments appeared to increase the movement of stool through the bowels, senna tea appeared to be more effective than erythromycin.

To date, there is no evidence that senna tea can help with detoxification or stimulate weight loss.

Side Effects and Risks

Little is known about the safety of long-term intake of senna tea. As such, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) warns against using senna for more than two weeks.

Taking senna for longer than two weeks may lead to dysfunction in the bowels, according to the NIH. Additionally, long-term use of senna may increase your risk of muscle weakness, liver damage, and heart function disorders.

Long-term excessive consumption of senna tea may be toxic to your liver, according to a 2005 report from the Annals of Pharmacotherapy.

The report focused on a 52-year-old woman who ingested one liter of senna tea every day for more than three years and then 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.

Although senna is likely safe for healthy people when used in the short term (in small amounts), it may trigger certain side effects (including stomach discomfort, cramps, and diarrhea). You can get additional tips on using supplements here

If you have any type of heart condition or gastrointestinal disorder (such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, or inflammation of the stomach), it's crucial to consult your doctor prior to consuming senna or senna tea. 

Where to Find Senna Tea

Widely available for purchase online, senna tea can also be found in many natural-foods stores and in stores specializing in dietary supplements.

The Takeaway

If you're considering the use of senna tea in the treatment of a condition, talk with your healthcare provider before you begin drinking the tea to discuss whether it's appropriate for you and to weigh the pros and cons.

It's also important to note that, in some cases, constipation may signal an underlying health problem (such as irritable bowel syndrome or a thyroid disorder).  

Sources:

Buhmann S, Kirchhoff C, Wielage C, Mussack T, Reiser MF, Lienemann A. Assessment of large bowel motility by cine magnetic resonance imaging using two different prokinetic agents: a feasibility study. Invest Radiol. 2005 Nov;40(11):689-94.

Vanderperren B, Rizzo M, Angenot L, Haufroid V, Jadoul M, Hantson P. Acute liver failure with renal impairment related to the abuse of senna anthraquinone glycosides. Ann Pharmacother. 2005 Jul-Aug;39(7-8):1353-7.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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