Senna is a natural laxative, derived from leaves of the Senna plant. Since it’s a nonprescription laxative, it is commonly used for treating constipation. Although it’s natural, it is not free of side effects.
Concerns related to chronic use of the laxative have made the FDA reclassify it from category I (Generally Regarded as Safe) to Category III (more data needed). The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) recommends that products made from senna leaf should include a notice on conditions when they should not be used. The AHPA also recommends a clear notice saying “Not for Long Term Use.” Let’s look at some of its side effects.
Some of the side effects of chronic use of the laxative are diarrhea and pain in the abdomen. An upset stomach, dehydration and bloating are the other side effects of senna. Sometimes, symptoms of constipation can worsen after you stop taking it.
A typical dose of senna is 15 to 30 mg, twice a day for not more than a week. However, long-term and chronic use of the laxative can lead to severe liver injuries. While these injuries are rare and can be reversed once patients stop taking the laxative, care should be taken to ensure you’re not addicted to it.
Extensive use of senna can lead to serious effects such as loss of potassium and an imbalance in electrolytes. There have been cases where having it in large quantities has led to finger clubbing or swellings of the ends of fingers.
Senna should be avoided by pregnant women, because its contents can mix with breast milk, making it unsafe during lactation. It is also not recommended for people with chronic intestinal disorders. It should also be avoided by people taking diuretics (substances that increase the production of urine) or steroids as it is known to interfere with their absorption by intestines.
Given their potential side effects, most doctors prefer recommending milder laxatives before prescribing senna. It is advisable to take Senna only if it has been prescribed by a doctor. Also, you should read the instructions on the label thoroughly before having it in any form.
Apart from Senna, there are many other natural ways of managing constipation. Try out milder laxatives such as flaxseeds or Psyllium husk before resorting to a strong laxative.
Alternative Medicine, by Donal O’Mathuna, Ph.D & Walt Larimore, M.D.