Senna is a plant where their leaves (“Fan Xie Ye” in Chinese word) containing anthraquinone derivatives made into medicine used as laxatives. The leaves contain active ingredients like sennosides that will stimulate fluid movement and contraction of large intestine wall, causing bowel movement. Senna herb has been widely used as mild laxative for many centuries by people from North Africa and Southwest Asia. On top of using it for short term treatment of constipation and evacuation of bowel prior invasive colon examination or surgery, it is also being used in various popular diet teas for weight loss.
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Senna As Laxatives
Senna is a non-prescription stimulant laxative approved by FDA, can be found in capsules, powder, tablets, herbal tea, extract syrup/concentrate or as herbal supplements. It is safe for most adults and children over the age of two when used short term without exceeding doses recommended. Nevertheless, mineral oil and lactulose might be more effective than Senna for children between 3-15 years old. For elderly people, it can be taken with psyllium to treat ongoing constipation. It is usually taken before bed to produce bowel movement 6 to 12 hours after wake up.
Safety Concerns and Warnings
Senna should not be used beyond seven consecutive days unless prescribed by physician. It could be possibly unsafe when taken in high doses or long term. Pregnant women and nursing mother should get advice from healthcare provider before taking it. It should not be used for people with below medical conditions:
- People with severe anemia
- People with severe hemorrhoids
- People with liver and kidney disease
- People with dehydration, diarrhea, or loose stools
- People with heart disease or congestive heart failure
- People with gastrointestinal cancer or recent colon surgery
- People with electrolyte disturbances or potassium deficiency
- People with stomach or bowel disorder such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- People with abdominal pain, stomach inflammation, intestinal blockage, appendicitis or anal prolapse
Senna has [highlight background=”#fff999″ color=”#000000″]interactions with some medications[/highlight] like birth control pills (Contraceptive drugs), digoxin (Lanoxin), estrogens, warfarin (Coumadin), and water pills (diuretic drugs). It also has interactions with herbs and supplements including horsetail, licorice and other stimulant laxative herbs. This is not a complete list, please check with your healthcare provider or doctor.
Senna may cause some side effects including bloating, stomach discomfort, cramps, diarrhea, discolored urine, nausea, vomiting, rash, numbness and swelling fingers or toes. Please seek immediate medical help if you have any allergic reaction signs such as hives, breathing difficulty, swelling face, lips, tongue or throat.
If consumed for longer term, Senna can cause electrolyte imbalance and loss of body fluids, weight loss and Melanosis Coli (dark pigmentation in the colon). There are cases where it is related to development of colorectal growths (adenomas), liver damage and cancer.
Potential Laxative Dependence
There are many popular slimming teas in the market contain ingredient of Senna. Being a natural herb, lots of people mistakenly think that it is 100% safe and can be taken continuously for weight loss. In fact, products containing Senna should not be used to get a daily bowel movement.
Long term consumption can cause the bowels to stop working normally and dependence on it. There were reports that some patients suffered from constant constipation became laxative dependence after taking Senna leaf for long term. Once it was discontinued, patients may experience symptoms such as anxiety, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, speedy respiratory rate, high blood pressure, body ache, and so on.