What is Senna Leaf Extract?
Senna leaf extract comes from the senna plant. It’s an herb that belongs to a group of flowering plants native to tropical regions. The most commonly used variety of senna for extract and tea is the Cassia senna, also called wild senna. It can be found in many parts of the world, including North America along moist banks and in densely wooded areas. Although the variety of senna widely used is the Cassia senna, it should not be confused with cassia, another name for a type of cinnamon bark.
The senna leaf has been used in traditional medicinal all across the globe for centuries. Beyond the use as a treatment for constipation, it can also prepare the colon for colonoscopies and other procedures. It may help alleviate some symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome and has anti-inflammatory and anti-parasitic effects. Senna leaf and extract are available in the form of a tea, powder, oil, granules, capsules and as part of herbal blends.
Senna Leaf Extract Benefits
Senna leaf contains compounds called sennosides (x). They are responsible for the herb’s effect on the digestive system. Sennosides increase movement in the large intestine (a process known as peristalsis) and direct water back into the stool, making it easier to pass (x).
Senna leaf is approved by the FDA as a nonprescription oral laxative. Generally, it can help produce a bowel movement in 6 to 12 hours after ingestion. People commonly take it before bed.
Studies show that senna, especially when combined with fiber such as psyllium, is a good way to manage intermittent and chronic constipation. It is effective among the elderly population who are more prone to constipation, and children can also benefit (after consultation with their pediatrician, of course). As long as it is taken as directed and for no longer than one to two weeks, the herb has a good reputation for safety (x, x, x, x).
Research is finding that senna may not be effective for all types of constipation, however. For example, constipation due to opioid use doesn’t seem to respond to senna (x).
IBS (Irritable Bowl Syndrome)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common but complicated condition. There are multiple possible causes and symptoms can very from person to person. For example, IBS can cause diarrhea, constipation or both. Getting to the root cause of IBS is important, but meanwhile, senna is one way to relieve the constipation it causes (x).
While senna leaf may be effective as an occasional treatment for IBS-related constipation, it’s not right for everyone. In some people, IBS causes the colon to frequently, and sometimes painfully, spasm. Since senna stimulates the colon, it could worsen matters. If you’re unsure if senna is appropriate in your case, please consult your doctor (x, x).
Bowel Prep for Colon Procedures
When preparing the colon for procedures like colonoscopies, senna can be useful. A study from 2000 found that the procedure was faster and more effective when senna was added to the colon cleansing formula (x). Another study found that senna was more effective than polyethylene glycol (a different type of laxative) at preparing the colon for surgery (x).
Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Parasitic
The senna plant and the senna leaf contain high amounts of resveratrol, a compound with potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. This allows the senna leaf to aid digestion and ease inflammation within the gastrointestinal tract (x, x). Animal studies also demonstrate its ability to expel parasites from the intestinal tract (x).
Does Senna Leaf Aid in Weight Loss?
Because senna leaf draws water out of the body, it can lead to a temporary loss of water weight. Beyond that, however, it does not aid in long term weight loss or management. In fact, using laxatives for weight loss is “laxative abuse.” About 4 percent of people living in the U.S. engage in this dangerous practice at some point in their lives. Long term or overuse of stimulant laxatives like senna can actually lead to a dependency whereby the body is unable to move bowels without them. Furthermore, overuse of senna can carry serious side effects. These include dehydration, altered electrolyte status and problems with cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems (x).
Senna Leaf Extract Dosage and Side Effects
As a dietary supplement, take 100 mg to 150 mg of senna leaf extract powder before bed. Be sure not to exceed the recommended dosage. Taking this product can result in a bowel movement within six to 12 hours.
By exceeding the recommended dosage, diarrhea, gastrointestinal discomfort and cramps may occur. Make sure to speak with your doctor before adding this supplement to your regimen.
Do not take if you are pregnant or nursing, or if you have a history of stomach or intestinal problems. Do not take for longer than 1-2 weeks at a time.
Side effects of excessive, prolonged use can include (x):
- Cardiovascular complications
- Chronic diarrhea and/or constipation
- Altered electrolyte levels
The Bottom Line
Senna leaf extract can provide relief for occasional bouts of constipation. By stimulating the muscles of the colon and promoting the hydration of its contents, this herb is safely used by most people when needed. Under the direction of a pediatric healthcare professional, even kids can benefit. Centuries of experience as well as modern research show that senna can promote overall gastrointestinal well-being when used as directed.
By: Meghan Carney