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Introduction

Senna is a herb found primarily in South India, the fruit and leaves of which can grow to almost two meters in height and can be used to create medicine to relieve constipation or clear the bowels before a colonoscopy. The effects of the Senna leaf are stronger than the fruit, leading to the American Herbal Products Association to warn against long-term use of the Senna leaf, but not the plant’s fruit. The active ingredients in Senna are chemicals called ‘sennosides’, which irritate the lining of the bowel and cause a laxative effect.

The Bottom Line – Senna is a herb, the fruit and leaves of which can be used in products to create a laxative effect.

Senna Health Benefits

Senna is used regularly to induce bowel movements, which relieves constipation and is said to have other health benefits such as weight loss.

Below is a list of the possible benefits we’ve found:

Senna Can Help With Constipation

There are two kinds of laxatives- fibrous bulk-forming products and those that induce muscle spasms and physically encourage bowel movements. Senna is the latter of the two, with its Sennosides stimulating the lining of the bowel to create a laxative effect. This gives quick relief from constipation. [1][2]

Senna Can Help With Water Weight Loss

Many ‘diet teas’ contain senna as an aid for people looking to lose weight. As well as its laxative effect getting rid of excess water within the body which may cause a bloated feeling, Senna can work alongside low carb weight loss diets that are often low in fibre and can lead to constipation. Another way that Senna tea can help people lose weight is by providing a method of high fluid intake- studies have found that people who drink more consume less food and fewer calories than people who do not. This is true for both people who drink the tea alongside meals and snacks, or in between eating times. However, contemporary scientists agree that using Senna for weight loss is not a good idea, as long term use can create a physical dependence, as well as causing electrolyte imbalances from excessive loss of water. It has also been stated that weight loss from taking Senna is always temporary, as it is not part of a sustainable weight loss program or healthier diet and lifestyle. [3]

Senna Can Help With Hair Health

Liquid Senna has been found to work well as a hair conditioner, possibly preventing hair loss as well as strengthening and volumizing existing hair. Senna is said to increase blood flow to the scalp and hair follicles, as well as increasing moisture so that hair growth is encouraged and enhanced. When Senna is made into a paste or liquid, a yellow tinge may be left on the hair. [4]

Senna Can Help With Halitosis

Senna has been found to be helpful in combating bad breath, or ‘halitosis’. The recommended way to use Senna to prevent or cure halitosis is to soak the leaves in boiling water and then allow the mixture to cool enough to be swilled around the mouth for one minute. [5]

The Bottom Line – Senna is a very effective, plant-based laxative and may also be used to improve the appearance of hair as well as combating bad breath. It is strongly advised not to use the product for weight loss due to its dangerous side effects and short term weight loss effects.

How To Use Senna

The methods of using Senna vary from tablets to tea

The most common methods of consuming Senna are:

  • As a drink (Senna leaves brewed in hot water)
  • As a tablet or capsule (to help relieve constipation)

The optimal dosage amount for Senna is that which does not exceed the dose recommended by the supplement packaging or your doctor. The general guidelines for adults is two tablets per day and one tablet per day for children, not to be used for more than two consecutive days.

Are There Any Foods That Contain Senna?

The only food or drink products that contain Senna are the senna fruit itself, senna teas and laxative chocolate that is available in pharmacies as an alternative to taking pills.

Senna Side Effects List

There are always risks to taking any kind of drug or supplement even if they have been used safely by others so talk to your doctor before changing your diet to include more or less Senna than you are used to.

The following side effects could potentially be:

  • Severe and watery diarrhoea
  • Stopping birth control or other medication from being effective
  • Severe and projectile vomiting
  • Severe dehydration
  • Temporary weight loss
  • Swelling of your fingers and toes
  • Low potassium levels
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps and bloating
  • Joint pain
  • Discoloured urine 

Note: Contact your doctor before stopping or starting a herbal product to discuss whether it is appropriate for your individual situation.

Is Senna Safe?

Consumed at the daily recommended doses to aid constipation, Senna has been found to be safe. However when used at higher doses there are several risks. Some of the risks include severe diarrhoea and dehydration, and if used in the long term, electrolyte imbalances that can be fatal. Deliberately overdosing on Senna can also cause a prolapsed rectum, where the bowel falls outside of the body through the anus.

When Should I Not Take Senna?

  • Children under the age of six years old should not take Senna due to the strong and possibly painful effects, and lack of study into the long term effects of the herb on young children.
  • Pregnant women should not take Senna
  • You should not take Senna if you have appendicitis
  • You should not take Senna if you have a stomach or bowel blockage
  • You should not take Senna if you are unable to control a bowel movement

Has Senna Been Linked To Any Deaths?

Senna has not specifically been linked to any deaths, but there have been several deaths from laxative abuse resulting in electrolyte imbalance and cardiac failure.

The Bottom Line – Senna has several positive properties that aid the relief of constipation and it is generally safe to consume within daily recommended limits. It can in large quantities cause severe problems which may be fatal.

Where Can I Buy Senna & Do I Need A Prescription?

You can purchase tea containing Senna at most herbalists and the pills can be purchased at most pharmacies; you can purchase also supplements online and a prescription is not needed.

Conclusion

Senna is a herbal supplement that has laxative properties and can aid in relief from constipation. Sensible consumption when needed, within recommended dosage limits, is considered safe for most people- contact your doctor if you have concerns about the effects of Senna or its inclusion in your diet.

Abbey Carlson, RD
Abbey Carlson, RD
Staff Writer & Fact Checker at DietProbe
Abbey is a registered dietitian who specializes in human nutrition and obesity prevention.
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Fact Checked


This article has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified nutritionist, and only uses information from credible academic sources.