Senna belongs to the family of desert flowering plants called Cassia spp. Senna or senna leaf, whose botanical name is Cassia acutifolia is a popular herbal medicine that is obtained from Senna alexandrina. Some other common names for this plant are Alexandrian senna, India senna, Cassia senna, and Khartoum senna. This plant, which is a member of the bean family is a native to India, Pakistan, and China. This natural product is available over the counter in the form of dried root, liquid extract, tablets, etc.
Senna, like many other herbs, has many therapeutic properties and has been used as a medicine for centuries. This leaf is mostly used to alleviate the symptoms of constipation and is also used as a colon cleanse. It is considered to be one of the most popular and traditional laxative that helps ease out the complications of constipation and other digestive problems. The pods and seeds of the plant are used as a herbal medicine. The leaves are dried and used in herbal teas that offer the same benefits as the capsules or powder.
Senna herb is an active ingredient in commercially available laxatives. This purgative nature is mainly due to the presence of certain organic anthraquinones like glycosides, which include dianthrone naphthalene glycosides and hydroxyanthracene. These glycosides are also known as sennosides. The presence of these compounds in the senna leaf stimulates the smooth functioning of the muscles that transport digested food in the intestines.
This enhances the stool volume and increases the peristaltic contractions to move the stool out of the large intestine or colon. The tea made from the leaves offer relief from constipation and cramping. It is usually recommended for patients who have undergone rectal surgery and those suffering from hemorrhoids.
Though senna leaf is an excellent laxative that relieves complications related to digestive problems, prolonged use of this herb can cause a number of side effects. If these side effects are not identified and treated in time, they may lead to a number of complications and health related disorders, which in rare cases, may even be life-threatening.
- Short-term side effects of using this leaf include, diarrhea, irritation of the rectum, abdominal cramping followed by pain, and nausea. Other symptoms are discoloration of the urine, a feeling of bloating, chalky colored or light stools, etc.
- The individual may also experience nausea accompanied by vomiting and fainting spells.
- Rapid heart rate, rectal bleeding, unrelieved constipation, and profuse sweating, are some other side effects of using senna supplements.
This herbal extract must be used only for a maximum period of ten consecutive days. The prolonged use of this bowel stimulant may lead to the following side effects:
- The most common and noticeable side effect is the 'lazy bowel syndrome', which is the inability to have a proper bowel movement without the help of stimulants. This condition is developed due to the prolonged use and dependency on senna extracts for regular bowel movements.
- Another side effect is worsened constipation due to the withdrawal of herb. This condition may also become severe and traces of blood can be observed in the stool.
- Dehydration, arthropathy (a progressive disease of the joints) and weakening or softening of the bones.
- Individuals on continuous usage, show symptoms of hypokalemia, wasting of muscles, unexplained weight loss.
- Other side effects include, enlargement of fingers and toes, pigmentation of the colon, and fatigue.
Senna leaf comes in the form of capsules and powder. However, keeping the side effects in mind, it is necessary to consult a herbalist, regarding the usage of this herb to avoid any harmful complications due to an overdose or continuous use.