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North Central and South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania
Senna is an FDA-approved nonprescription laxative. It is used to treat constipation and also to clear the bowel before diagnostic tests such as colonoscopy.
Senna is also used for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), hemorrhoids, and weight loss.
Senna fruit seems to be gentler than senna leaf. This has led the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) to warn against long-term use of senna leaf, but not senna fruit. The AHPA recommends that senna leaf products be labeled, "Do not use this product if you have abdominal pain or diarrhea. Consult a healthcare provider prior to use if you are pregnant or nursing. Discontinue use in the event of diarrhea or watery stools. Do not exceed recommended dose. Not for long-term use.”
How effective is it?
The effectiveness ratings for SENNA are as follows:
Likely effective for...
- Constipation. Taking senna orally is effective for short-term treatment of constipation. Senna is an FDA-approved nonprescription drug for adults and children ages 2 years and older. However, in children ages 3-15 years, mineral oil and a medication called lactulose might be more effective. In elderly people, senna plus psyllium is more effective than lactulose for treating ongoing constipation.
Possibly effective for...
- Bowel preparation before colonoscopy. Taking senna by mouth might be effective for bowel cleansing before colonoscopy; however, sodium phosphate or polyethylene glycol are more effective.
Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...
- Irritable bowel disease.
- Losing weight.
- Other conditions.
How does it work?
Are there safety concerns?
Don't use senna for more than two weeks. Longer use can cause the bowels to stop functioning normally and might cause dependence on laxatives. Long-term use can also change the amount or balance of some chemicals in the blood (electrolytes) that can cause heart function disorders, muscle weakness, liver damage, and other harmful effects.
Special precautions & warnings:Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Senna is POSSIBLY SAFE during pregnancy and breast-feeding when used short-term. It is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when used long-term or in high doses. Long-term, frequent use, or use of high doses has been linked to serious side effects including laxative dependence and liver damage.
Although small amounts of senna cross into breast milk, it doesn’t seem to be a problem for nursing babies. As long as the mother uses senna in recommended amounts, senna does not cause changes in the frequency or consistency of babies’ stools.
Electrolyte disturbances, potassium deficiency: Overuse of senna can make these conditions worse.
Dehydration, diarrhea or loose stools: Senna should not be used in people with dehydration, diarrhea, or loose stools. It can make these conditions worse.
Gastrointestinal (GI) conditions: Senna should not be used by people with abdominal pain (either diagnosed or undiagnosed), intestinal blockage, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, appendicitis, stomach inflammation, anal prolapse, or hemorrhoids.
Heart disease: Senna can cause electrolyte disturbances and might make heart disease worse.
Are there interactions with medications?
Some "water pills" that can decrease potassium include chlorothiazide (Diuril), chlorthalidone (Thalitone), furosemide (Lasix), hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ, Hydrodiuril, Microzide), and others.
Are there interactions with herbs and supplements?
C. acutifolia, yielding the finest and most valuable variety of the drug is a small shrub about 2 feet high. The stem is erect, smooth, and pale green, with long, spreading branches, bearing leaflets in four or five pairs, averaging an inch long, lanceolate or obovate, unequally oblique at the base, veins distinct on the under surface, brittle, greyish-green, of a faint, peculiar odour, and mucilaginous, sweetish taste. The form of the base, and freedom from bitterness, distinguish the Senna from the Argel leaves, which are also thicker and stiffer. The flowers are small and yellow. The pods are broadly oblong, about 2 inches long by 7/8 inch broad, and contain about six seeds.
Senna is an Arabian name, and the drug was first brought into use by the Arabian physicians Serapion and Mesue, and Achiarius was the first of the Greeks to notice it.He recommends not the leaves but the fruit, and Mesue also prefers the pods to the leaves, thinking them more powerful, though they are actually less so, but they do not cause griping.
- The leaves of C. acutifolia are collected principally in Nubia. Ignatius Pallme, who travelled much in Africa, wrote:
- 'Senna is found in abundance in many parts of Kardofan, but the leaves are not collected on account of the existing monopoly. The Government draws its supplies from Dongola in Nubia.'
Two crops are collected annually in Nubia, the more abundant in September, after the rains, the other in April, in dry seasons a very bad one. The plants are cut down, exposed on the rocks in hot sunshine until thoroughly dry, then stripped, and packed in palm-leaf bags, being sent thus on camels to Essouan and Darao, and by the Nile to Cairo, or via Massowah and Suakin on the Red Sea. It is made up at Boulak, near Cairo, under the superintendence of the Egyptian Government, though much adulteration takes place there. The leaves are loosely packed, and as they curl when drying, often present this appearance, while Indian Senna is packed tightly, and the leaves come out flat.
Senna appears to have been cultivated in England about 1640. By keeping the plants in a hot-bed all the summer, they frequently flowered; but rarely perfected their seeds.
Commercial Senna is prepared for use by garbling, or picking out the leaflets and rejecting the lead-stalks, impurities, and leaves of other plants. The amount annually exported is about 8,000 bales of each of the varieties, and the price is high, owing to the failure of the crops at certain seasons. Good Senna may be known by the bright, fresh, yellowishgreen colour of the leaves, with a faint and peculiar odour rather like green tea, and a nauseous, mucilaginous, sweetish, slightly bitter taste. It should be powdered only as wanted, because the powder absorbs moisture, becomes mouldy, and loses its value. Boiling destroys its virtues, unless it be in vacuo, or in a covered vessel.
What dose is used?
Senna is an FDA-approved nonprescription drug.
- For constipation in adults and children age 12 and over: the usual dose is 17.2 mg daily. Don't take more than 34.4 mg per day.
- For constipation in children: 8.5 mg daily increased just enough to cause one bowel movement daily has been used.
- For constipation in elderly people: 17 mg daily has been used.
- For constipation following pregnancy: 28 mg in 2 divided doses has been used.
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- van Gorkom, B. A., Karrenbeld, A., Limburg, A. J., and Kleibeuker, J. H. The effect of sennosides on colonic mucosal histology and bowel preparation. Z.Gastroenterol. 1998;36:13-18.
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- Leng-Peschlow, E. Inhibition of intestinal water and electrolyte absorption by senna derivatives in rats. J Pharm.Pharmacol. 1980;32:330-335. View abstract.
- Monias, M. B. Standardized senna concentrate in postpartum bowel rehabilitation. Md State Med J 1966;15:32-33. View abstract.
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- Fournier, A. M. [Use of senna for the acceleration of small intestine transit in hospital radiology]. Mars.Med 1971;108:469-474. View abstract.
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- Sanders, R. C. and Wright, F. W. Colonic preparation: a controlled trial of Dulcodos, Dulcolax and Senokot DX. Br.J Radiol. 1970;43:245-247. View abstract.
- Slanger, A. Comparative study of a standardized senna liquid and castor oil in preparing patients for radiographic examination of the colon. Dis.Colon Rectum 1979;22:356-359. View abstract.
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- Mengs, U. Reproductive toxicological investigations with sennosides. Arzneimittelforschung. 1986;36:1355-1358. View abstract.
- Marcus, S. N. and Heaton, K. W. Intestinal transit, deoxycholic acid and the cholesterol saturation of bile--three inter-related factors. Gut 1986;27:550-558. View abstract.
- van der Jagt, E. J., Thijn, C. J., and Taverne, P. P. Colon cleansing prior to roentgenologic examination. A double blind comparative study. J Belge Radiol. 1986;69:167-170. View abstract.
- Mengs, U. Toxic effects of sennosides in laboratory animals and in vitro. Pharmacology 1988;36 Suppl 1:180-187. View abstract.
- Hietala, P., Lainonen, H., and Marvola, M. New aspects on the metabolism of the sennosides. Pharmacology 1988;36 Suppl 1:138-143. View abstract.
- Lemli, J. Metabolism of sennosides--an overview. Pharmacology 1988;36 Suppl 1:126-128. View abstract.
- First International Symposium on Senna. May 22-23, 1987, Rottach-Egern (FRG). Proceedings. Pharmacology 1988;36 Suppl 1:1-240. View abstract.
- Staumont, G., Frexinos, J., Fioramonti, J., and Bueno, L. Sennosides and human colonic motility. Pharmacology 1988;36 Suppl 1:49-56. View abstract.
- Lemli, J. Senna--an old drug in modern research. Pharmacology 1988;36 Suppl 1:3-6. View abstract.
- Heldwein, W., Sommerlatte, T., Hasford, J., Lehnert, P., Littig, G., and Muller-Lissner, S. Evaluation of the usefulness of dimethicone and/or senna extract in improving the visualization of abdominal organs. J Clin.Ultrasound 1987;15:455-458. View abstract.
- Kinnunen, O. and Salokannel, J. The carry-over effect on the bowel habit in elderly long-term patients of long-term bulk-forming products containing stimulant laxative. Acta Med Scand. 1987;222:477-479. View abstract.
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- Fireman, Z., Rozen, P., Fine, N., and Chetrit, A. Reproducibility studies and effects of bowel preparations on measurements of rectal epithelial proliferation. Cancer Lett. 1989;45:59-64. View abstract.
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- Lazarus, H., Fitzmartin, R. D., and Goldenheim, P. D. A multi-investigator clinical evaluation of oral controlled-release morphine (MS Contin tablets) administered to cancer patients. Hosp.J 1990;6:1-15. View abstract.
- Ziegenhagen, D. J., Zehnter, E., Tacke, W., and Kruis, W. Addition of senna improves colonoscopy preparation with lavage: a prospective randomized trial. Gastrointest.Endosc. 1991;37:547-549. View abstract.
- Soyuncu, S., Cete, Y., and Nokay, A. E. Portal vein thrombosis related to Cassia angustifolia. Clin.Toxicol.(Phila) 2008;46:774-777. View abstract.
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- McLaughlin, A. F. Anorexia nervosa and senna misuse: nephrocalcinosis, digital clubbing and hypertrophic osteoarthropathy. Med J Aust. 9-15-2008;189:348. View abstract.
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- Waltenberger, B., Avula, B., Ganzera, M., Khan, I. A., Stuppner, H., and Khan, S. I. Transport of sennosides and sennidines from Cassia angustifolia and Cassia senna across Caco-2 monolayers--an in vitro model for intestinal absorption. Phytomedicine. 2008;15:373-377. View abstract.
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- Lewis, S. and Cochrane, S. Alteration of sulfate and hydrogen metabolism in the human colon by changing intestinal transit rate. Am J Gastroenterol. 2007;102:624-633. View abstract.
- De, Salvo L., Borgonovo, G., Ansaldo, G. L., Varaldo, E., Floris, F., Assalino, M., and Gianiorio, F. The bowel cleansing for colonoscopy. A randomized trial comparing three methods. Ann.Ital.Chir 2006;77:143-146. View abstract.
- Padumanonda, T. and Gritsanapan, W. Barakol contents in fresh and cooked Senna siamea leaves. Southeast Asian J Trop.Med Public Health 2006;37:388-393. View abstract.
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- Kositchaiwat, S., Suwanthanmma, W., Suvikapakornkul, R., Tiewthanom, V., Rerkpatanakit, P., and Tinkornrusmee, C. Comparative study of two bowel preparation regimens for colonoscopy: senna tablets vs sodium phosphate solution. World J Gastroenterol. 9-14-2006;12:5536-5539. View abstract.
- Putalun, W., Pimmeuangkao, S., De-Eknamkul, W., Tanaka, H., and Shoyama, Y. Sennosides A and B production by hairy roots of Senna alata (L.) Roxb. Z.Naturforsch.C. 2006;61(5-6):367-371. View abstract.
- Patanwala, A. E., Abarca, J., Huckleberry, Y., and Erstad, B. L. Pharmacologic management of constipation in the critically ill patient. Pharmacotherapy 2006;26:896-902. View abstract.
- Beuers, U., Spengler, U., and Pape, G. R. Hepatitis after chronic abuse of senna. Lancet 2-9-1991;337:372-373. View abstract.
- Guo, H., Huang, Y., Xi, Z., Song, Y., Guo, Y., and Na, Y. Is bowel preparation before excretory urography necessary? A prospective, randomized, controlled trial. J Urol. 2006;175:665-668. View abstract.
- Radaelli, F., Meucci, G., Imperiali, G., Spinzi, G., Strocchi, E., Terruzzi, V., and Minoli, G. High-dose senna compared with conventional PEG-ES lavage as bowel preparation for elective colonoscopy: a prospective, randomized, investigator-blinded trial. Am J Gastroenterol. 2005;100:2674-2680. View abstract.
- Burlefinger, R. J. and Schmitt, W. [Letter to the Journal of Gastroenterology. Comment on the article "Senna or bisacodyl before lavage preparation for colonoscopy: prospective randomized comparative study", by D. J. Ziegenhagen, E. Zehnter, W. Tacke, T. H. Gheorghiu, W. Kruis]. Z.Gastroenterol. 1992;30:376. View abstract.
- Sonmez, A., Yilmaz, M. I., Mas, R., Ozcan, A., Celasun, B., Dogru, T., Taslipinar, A., and Kocar, I. H. Subacute cholestatic hepatitis likely related to the use of senna for chronic constipation. Acta Gastroenterol.Belg. 2005;68:385-387. View abstract.
- Martinez-Costa, C., Palao Ortuno, M. J., Alfaro, Ponce B., Nunez, Gomez F., Martinez-Rodriguez, L., Ferre, Franch, I, and Brines, Solanes J. [Functional constipation: prospective study and treatment response]. An.Pediatr.(Barc.) 2005;63:418-425. View abstract.
- Buhmann, S., Kirchhoff, C., Wielage, C., Mussack, T., Reiser, M. F., and Lienemann, A. Assessment of large bowel motility by cine magnetic resonance imaging using two different prokinetic agents: a feasibility study. Invest Radiol. 2005;40:689-694. View abstract.
- Mitchell, J. M., Mengs, U., McPherson, S., Zijlstra, J., Dettmar, P., Gregson, R., and Tigner, J. C. An oral carcinogenicity and toxicity study of senna (Tinnevelly senna fruits) in the rat. Arch.Toxicol. 2006;80:34-44. View abstract.
- Borowitz, S. M., Cox, D. J., Kovatchev, B., Ritterband, L. M., Sheen, J., and Sutphen, J. Treatment of childhood constipation by primary care physicians: efficacy and predictors of outcome. Pediatrics 2005;115:873-877. View abstract.
- Ramkumar, D. and Rao, S. S. Efficacy and safety of traditional medical therapies for chronic constipation: systematic review. Am J Gastroenterol. 2005;100:936-971. View abstract.
- Buhmann, S., Kirchhoff, C., Wielage, C., Fischer, T., Mussack, T., Reiser, M., and Lienemann, A. [Visualization and quantification of large bowel motility with functional cine-MRI]. Rofo 2005;177:35-40. View abstract.
- Senna and habituation. Pharmacology 1992;44 Suppl 1:30-32. View abstract.
- Senna and damage of the nerve plexus of the intestinal wall. Pharmacology 1992;44 Suppl 1:26-29. View abstract.
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