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Senna: Uses and Risks

Senna is a shrub that grows in Africa, India, and some other parts of the world. For centuries, senna leaves and fruit have been a folk remedy for constipation. Senna is sold in the U.S. as both a supplement and an ingredient in FDA-approved drugs.

Why do people take senna?

Research has found that senna may help with constipation. It seems to stimulate the intestines. It may work for constipation caused by pregnancy, surgery, or drug side effects. There's also some evidence that senna effectively cleans out the bowels before a colonoscopy.

Some studies have shown that it is not effective in children younger than age 12.

Standard doses of senna have not been set. It depends on the person and the condition.

Can you get senna naturally from foods?

Senna fruit and leaves are edible. The fruit may act a little more gently than the leaves. Some people drink senna tea for constipation.

What are the risks?

Tell your doctor about any supplements you're taking, even if they're natural. That way, your doctor can check on any potential side effects or interactions with medications.

Side effects. Senna can cause cramps, bloating, upset stomach, and diarrhea. Taking senna in high doses or for a long time could be dangerous.

Risks. Don't take senna for more than about 10 days. Always follow the directions on the bottle. Senna may be dangerous if you have kidney or liver problems, heart disease, Crohn's disease, colitis, stomach ulcers, hemorrhoids, intestinal problems, or abdominal pain. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, check with a doctor before using senna.

Interactions. If you take any medications regularly, talk to your doctor before you start using senna supplements. They could interact with diuretics, blood thinners, and medications for heart problems and diabetes.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does regulate dietary supplements; however, it treats them like foods rather than medications. Unlike drug manufacturers, the makers of supplements don’t have to show their products are safe or effective before selling them on the market.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Kiefer, MD on February 18, 2015

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