Senna: Uses and Risks

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on April 28, 2023
2 min read

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.

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 other products are more effective in children from the ages of 3 to 15.

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

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, and upset stomach

Risks. Always follow the directions on the bottle. 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.

Dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA in the same way that food and drugs are.  The FDA does not review these supplements for safety or efficacy before they hit the market.