What Is Senna Tea?

Medically reviewed by Natalie Olsen, RD, LD, ACSM EP-C on June 5, 2017Written by Ana Gotter

Overview

Senna is an herb, and senna tea is made from the leaves of the Cassia senna plant. These plants thrive in tropical areas, though some can grow in more temperate climates.

Senna tea can be slightly sweet, but it has strong bitter undertones. Because of this, people sometimes mix senna tea with green tea or add honey to improve its flavor. It is also not incredibly aromatic.

Senna tea has been marketed as a constipation treatment and a “detox” tea. It’s also often used as a weight loss aid, although this is not recommended.

Thanks to its ability to treat constipation, it’s sometimes used short-term to treat hemorrhoids. However, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of senna for hemorrhoids or weight loss.

Senna is approved by the FDA as a nonprescription laxative. The recommended intake for adults age 12 and older is 17.2 milligrams (mg) per day. Experts caution not to exceed 34.4 mg per day. For constipation in children, 8.5 mg per day is recommended. For constipation following pregnancy, 28 mg divided in 2 doses has been used.

Side effects

Senna tea can cause a number of different immediate side effects. These include:

  • mild abdominal cramps
  • severe diarrhea, especially with long-term usage
  • nausea
  • faintness, which can often happen as a result of diarrhea that leads to water loss

Health benefits

Senna tea is a viable short-term treatment for constipation. Because senna tea can treat constipation, it may also help treat hemorrhoids that occur as a result of chronic constipation, but you should consult your doctor before use.

Senna is also thought to have both anti-inflammatory and antiparasitic properties.

Risks, complications, and interactions

While senna tea seems to be effective as a short-term constipation treatment, it should not be used long-term. The American Herbal Products Association actually recommended that it not be used long-term due to the potential risks.

Long-term senna usage may cause laxative dependence and liver damage.

You should consult your doctor before taking senna if you have:

Senna tea may also interact with medications like blood thinners and diuretics.

Long-term use of any form of senna may cause an electrolyte disturbance that can exacerbate preexisting heart conditions, including heart disease.

What the research says

While senna tea should only be used as a short-term treatment, the limited number of studies show that it seems to be safe for most people.

One 2009 study published in the Journal of Toxicology found that chronic senna use does not have an impact on the function of the smooth intestinal muscle or the enteric nerves in rats after two years. It also found that there were no carcinogenic effects during that time.

A 2011 study also found that there does not seem to be a link between chronic use of senna and colon cancer. The study recommends treating constipation by first using a bulk-forming agent or (one at a time) a stool softener, and then adding a stimulant like senna.

Takeaway

Senna tea is approved by the FDA as a nonprescription laxative, making it a viable and relatively safe treatment for those struggling with constipation. It is not recommended to use it as a weight loss aid. Instead, aim to lose weight through healthier measures like exercising and eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and fibrous carbohydrates.

It’s not recommended to drink senna tea for more than two weeks. It’s best when used on an occasional basis. If drinking senna tea hasn’t helped your constipation, make an appointment with your doctor to decide how to proceed.

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