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Senna

What Should I Know About It?

By

Updated May 22, 2014

Senna
Maša Sinreih in Valentina Vivod/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

What is Senna?

Alternate Names: Cassia senna, cassia acutifolia, cassia marilandica, cassia augustifolia, wild senna, locust plant, aden senna

Medicinal part: Leaves and pods

The leaves and pods of the senna plant contain compounds called anthraquinones, which are powerful laxatives.

Why Do People Use Senna?

Constipation

Dosage Information

Senna can be found as capsules, tablets, liquid extracts, and dried root.

Bowel movements usually occur 6 to 12 hours after taking senna.

Side Effects and Safety

Senna should not be used for more than seven consecutive days unless under a doctor's supervision. It should not be used to get a daily bowel movement.

Pregnant or nursing women should not use senna. Children should not use senna.

Senna or other anthraquinone-containing herbs should not be used by people diverticular disease, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, severe hemorrhoids, blood vessel disease, congestive heart failure, heart disease, severe anemia, abdominal hernia, gastrointestinal cancer, recent colon surgery, or liver and kidney disease.

Senna may interact with drugs called calcium channel blockers, such as procardia, and the drug indocin.

Senna may discolor urine.

Side effects of senna may include strong cramping and griping pains in the abdomen (due to muscle contractions. Senna can also cause electrolyte imbalance (loss of potassium) and loss of body fluids, nausea, rash, swelling of the fingertips, weight loss, and dark pigmentation in the colon, called melanosis coli with longer term use. Discontinue using senna immediately if you experience these side effects. Call your doctor if you experience bloody diarrhea or prolonged abdominal pain after using rhubarb.

Senna has been linked to liver toxicity. There is a report of a 52 year old woman who ingested one liter of senna tea per day for over three years. She developed acute liver failure and kidney impairment requiring intensive care therapy. Long-term use of anthraquinones has been linked to the development of colorectal growths (adenomas) and cancer.

Large doses of anthraquinones may cause bloody diarrhea or vomiting.

Sources

Feltrow, C.W. and J.R. Avila. The Complete Guide to Herbal Medicines. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000.

Peirce, Andrea. The American Pharmaceutical Association Practical Guide to Natural Medicines. New York: William Morrow, 1999.

Vanderperren B, Rizzo M, Angenot L, Haufroid V, Jadoul M, Hantson P. Acute liver failure with renal impairment related to the abuse of senna anthraquinone glycosides. Ann Pharmacother. 2005 Jul-Aug;39(7-8):1353-7.

Willems M, van Buuren HR, de Krijger R. Anthranoid self-medication causing rapid development of melanosis coli. Neth J Med. 2003 Jan;61(1):22-4.

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