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Why Senna Tea Is Not the Answer to Constipation

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December 01, 2018

Story at-a-glance

  • While it’s been marketed as a “natural” remedy for constipation, take note that senna tea, made from the leaves of Cassia senna, may have damaging effects on your health. Learn why you should be extremely cautious of this laxative
  • There’s a hidden danger linked to consuming senna tea, mainly because people are being duped into using it as a weight loss drink. Here’s what you need to know about this product and why it is not a magic solution for constipation

Constipation: It’s said that this seemingly simple health condition is now a silent epidemic that is affecting the health of thousands of people. In the U.S., it affects approximately 15 percent of the population,1 and results in at least 2.5 million doctors’ appointments per year,2 as well as over 700,000 ER visits.3 It’s said that hundreds of million dollars are being spent annually on laxatives alone by those who suffer from this condition.4

Some people who are desperate for a solution often resort to various remedies to ease constipation. One of the most popular products out there is senna tea, a “natural” laxative that’s been approved by the FDA.5

But beware: There’s a hidden danger linked to consuming senna tea, mainly because people are being duped into using it as a weight loss drink.6 Here’s what you need to know about this product and why it is not a magic solution for constipation.

What Is Senna Tea?

Made from the leaves of senna herb, also called Cassia senna or C. angustifolia,7 senna tea is a remedy that’s commonly used to ease constipation. It’s a weedy, perennial plant that is native to tropical areas, such as China, India, Africa and the Middle East.8

In several countries, senna has been used for many years to help alleviate certain health conditions, such as skin problems, intestinal gas and dyspepsia, and bronchial congestion.9 Today, the tea form of this herb is rising in popularity because of its effect against constipation10 — however, this purported benefit should actually be taken with a grain of salt.

In terms of flavor, senna tea is described to be slightly sweet but with a bitter aftertaste.11 To make it more palatable, some people add honey or lemon juice to their senna tea.12

Does Senna Tea Offer Any Benefits?

Senna tea is said to offer relief for constipation, as it has a natural laxative effect. This is thanks to the glycosides found in the plant, the primary constituents being sennosides A, B, C and D. Glycosides are organic anthraquinone compounds that stimulate the smooth muscles as digested food travels through the intestines. As a result, stool volume is enhanced and moved out of the colon. Senna is often used with fennel and ginger, which are warming carminative herbs, to help minimize cramping.13

One species of senna, Senna alexandrina Mill., was found by animal studies to have anthelmintic effects, meaning it may help eliminate intestinal worms and other gut parasites, thanks to its sennosides.14

But because of its laxative effects, this concoction is now commonly treated as a “dieter’s tea” or a detox tea, used by people who are looking for a fast way to lose weight.15 Senna tea is even used in conjunction with something called “the master cleanse.”16 However, this is not recommended, as it may come with some dire results.

Drinking Senna Tea May Lead to Unpleasant Side Effects

Remember that laxative-inducing concoctions like senna tea are especially not advisable to be taken for long periods of time, as this will impair the normal function of your colon. They may make your digestive system “dependent” on the tea.17 Over time, senna tea may also damage the function of your intestinal walls, decreasing the ability of your muscles to contract on their own.18

What’s more, senna tea may come with digestive issues, such as diarrhea, which may then trigger dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.19 Nausea, cramps and vomiting may also occur upon drinking this tea.20

Senna tea is also not recommended if you're pregnant or breastfeeding, as it's partly absorbed by your gut. Always consult your physician before taking any type of laxative or drinking any tea while pregnant or nursing.21

There Are Natural, Healthy Ways to Ease Constipation

Keep in mind that constipation is a symptom that may indicate an underlying disease or illness process. Thus, it is not enough to simply treat it — rather, you need to go to the root of the problem.

In addition, you should also evaluate your lifestyle habits and see if any of them is disrupting your digestive process. For example, failing to get enough fiber and or to drink adequate amounts of water can heighten your risk of constipation. For more information on how to prevent this health condition, read my article “Epidemic Numbers of People Suffering From Constipation.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Senna Tea

Q: Is it safe to drink senna tea daily?

A: No. Laxatives like senna tea can damage the function of your intestinal walls if taken for long periods of time.22 As a result, it may decrease the ability of your muscles to contract on their own, further worsening your digestive process.

Q: Can I drink senna tea while breastfeeding?

A: Senna tea is partly absorbed by the gut and is therefore not recommended while nursing or during pregnancy.23

Q: What does senna tea do?

A: Senna tea works by stimulating the smooth muscles in the intestines, as digested food travels through. This is thanks to organic anthraquinone compounds called glycosides found in the plant. As a result, stool volume is enhanced and moved out of the colon.

Q: What is senna tea used for?

A: Senna tea is commonly used as a laxative to help ease constipation. However, some people are using it as a weight loss product, which is not recommended.

Q: Is senna tea safe?

A: Although it is approved by the FDA as a nonprescription laxative,24 remember that senna tea may still pose side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and cramps.

Q: Where can I buy senna tea?

A: Senna tea can be bought online or from health stores.

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Sources and References

  • 1 Therap Adv Gastroenterol. 2012 Jul; 5(4): 233–247.
  • 2 Gastroenterology. 2013 Jan; 144(1): 218–238.
  • 3 Am J Gastroenterol. 2015 Apr;110(4):572-9.
  • 4 Can J Gastroenterol. 2011 Oct; 25(Suppl B): 11B–15B.
  • 5 WebMD, Senna Tea
  • 6 CBC, November 3, 2018
  • 7, 8 "Winston & Kuhn's Herbal Therapy & Supplements: A Scientific & Traditional Approach," 2007
  • 9 "Medical Toxicology of Natural Substances: Foods, Fungi, Medicinal Herbs, Plants, and Venomous Animals," 2008
  • 10, 21, 23 NHS, Senna (Senokot)
  • 11 Organic Facts, May 24, 2018
  • 12 Stylecraze, October 10, 2017
  • 13 "The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs: The Most Complete Guide to Natural Healing and Health with Traditional Ayurvedic Herbalism," 2008
  • 14 J Parasit Dis. 2017 Mar; 41(1): 147–154.
  • 15 Tonic, March 12, 2018
  • 16 Better Nutrition, September 2, 2010
  • 17, 19 Medical News Today, January 20, 2018
  • 18, 22 Pharmacology 1992;44:26–29
  • 20 Very Well Health, September 14, 2017
  • 24 MedlinePlus, February 16, 2015
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