Senna – when to use it, how it works and what side effects it has

Senna – when to use it, how it works and what side effects it has

Senna is a natural laxative, intended for temporary use in case of constipation (senna cannot be used for a long time). This plant is a source of biologically active compounds that affect intestinal peristalsis. How to use senna and what side effects can it cause? What diseases prevent the use of senna? Check!

  • Senna – an Arabian remedy for constipation
  • How does senna work? What’s the composition?
  • How to use senna?
  • When not to use senna?
  • Senna – side effects of its use

Many people suffer from constipation, which makes it difficult to function normally, affecting general well-being and quality of life. However, before we start using senna or other herbs for constipation, it is worth knowing the cause of troublesome ailments. Various factors influence intestinal peristalsis. Very often used diet and lifestyle cause that the intestines do not function properly. However, recurrent constipation can also indicate a serious disease, such as cancer. People suffering from constipation should consult a doctor and perform tests that will help identify their cause.

Important! Senna and other herbs for constipation should be used temporarily. Frequent use of laxatives can be counterproductive and increase the risk of side effects.

Senna – an Arabian remedy for constipation

Senna is a herbal laxative, which is obtained from two species of cassia – narrow-leaved senna and holly-leaved senna. The medicinal raw material is senna leaves (Sennae folium) and senna fruits (Sennae fructus).

The holly-leaved senna, which is also called the Alexandrian senna, grows, among others, in in North Africa, Egypt and Sudan. Narrow-leaved senna grows, among others, in in the Nile basin. Both species of senna have a laxative effect, which is due to the high content of anthracene glycosides. In Arab countries, senna has been known for a very long time – it was introduced into medicine at the turn of the 10th and 11th centuries.

Senna has a similar effect as e.g. buckthorn bark and saffron root, which have also been used in folk medicine for constipation for a long time. You have to remember that you must not combine several laxative herbs! It is not recommended to use agents that have a laxative effect for rapid weight loss. Before using the preparation for constipation, you need to read the manufacturer’s recommendations, which should be on the product packaging or in the leaflet attached to it.

Chronically ill people, as well as people taking pharmaceuticals should consult their doctor or pharmacist before using senna and other laxatives. Laxatives should not be used by pregnant and lactating women without consulting a doctor. Senna is intended for use in adults – it should not be given to infants and children! Elderly people should be especially careful when using senna.

How does senna work? What’s the composition?

The laxative properties of senna have been known thanks to numerous studies that have been conducted since the 1930s. Anthranoids are responsible for the laxative effect after using senna, which irritate the wall of the large intestine, stimulating its peristalsis. In many cases, the cause of constipation is slowed intestinal transit, which is why senna turns out to be an effective solution to the problem of reduced frequency of bowel movements.

The medicinal raw material is most often dried leaves of cassia. Senna leaves contain not less than 2.5% of anthracene glycosides – sennosides A, B, C, D, as well as mucous compounds, aloe-emodin derivatives, rheins and flavonoids. Senna fruits contain more anthracene glycosides – 3.5-4%. Senna is also a source of e.g. flavonoids, phytosterols, tannins, mineral salts and bitter compounds.

Sennosides begin to affect the body after getting into the large intestine, where they are metabolized under the influence of bacterial flora enzymes. As a result of decomposition of sennosides, e.g. monoanthraquinone glycosides. The end product of sennosides metabolism is rheino-9-antrone, which exhibits laxative properties.

The mechanism of action of the anthranoids present in senna increases the secretion of water and electrolytes into the lumen of the large intestine and inhibits the reabsorption of water, leading to an increase in the volume of fluid in the large intestine and softening of the feces. The laxative effect of senna leads to the acceleration of the movement of intestinal contents, removing fecal matter. When using senna, abdominal cramps may occur, which are related to the mechanism of its action.

Senna is not only a natural remedy for constipation. Senna can also be used for haemorrhoids (also known as haemorrhoids) and to cleanse the colon before a colonoscopy.

How to use senna?

Senna should be taken in the evening before bedtime. It is best to use senna in the form of ready-made sachets for infusion, thanks to which we will avoid the risk of overdosing on sennosides – exceeding the allowed daily dose of sennosides increases the risk of side effects. A safe daily dose of sennosides is 20-30 mg.

We can also prepare an infusion of dried senna leaves – 1 tablespoon of dried leaves should be poured with a glass of hot water. Senna is also available in tablets and capsules.

The laxative effect after using senna is not immediate – senna begins to work after 8-12 hours. Senna should not be used for more than 7 days. It is best to consult your doctor before using constipation remedies.

Despite the high efficiency of action in the treatment of constipation, senna and other constipation remedies cannot be used for a long time. In the case of abuse of laxatives, the intestines stop functioning properly – long-term use of senna and other natural laxatives, as well as pharmaceuticals, causes the so-called. bowel lazy. Substances contained in senna can cause various side effects. Using senna in too high doses or for a long time can cause, among others, excessive loss of body water and electrolyte disturbances, as well as liver damage.

When using senna, you should increase the amount of water you drink. In order to restore proper intestinal peristalsis, a diet rich in dietary fiber and physical activity are recommended.

When not to use senna?

Contraindications to the use of senna include:

  • inflammatory bowel diseases, e.g. ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease,

  • inflammation of the appendix,

  • bowel obstruction,

  • undiagnosed acute and chronic gastrointestinal complaints.

Senna should not be used by people with kidney failure, pregnant and breastfeeding women – substances contained in senna pass into breast milk and can cause diarrhea in a child.

Concomitant use of senna and diuretics may cause electrolyte disturbances and related cardiac arrhythmias, which are caused by reduced potassium levels.

Senna – side effects of its use

The side effects of using senna include: symptoms such as:

  • diarrhea,

  • abdominal cramps,

  • stomachache,

  • weakness,

  • dehydration and electrolyte disturbances.

Long-term use of senna in too high doses can cause serious complications, including: liver damage.


  • J. Nartowska, Senes – an Arab remedy, PANACEA, April – June 2008, pp. 7-9

  • Senna leaf, EMA/697536/2018

  • Senna pods, EMA/697392/2018

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