Senna, with the botanical name Cassia senna or Cassia angustifolia, is an herb commonly used as a laxative. The anthraquinone in senna interacts with bacteria in the digestive tract, which causes intestinal contractions. Senna is included in commercial laxatives such as Ex-Lax Gentle Nature and Fletchers Castoria and can be purchased in some health food stores in liquid extract, dried pods, dried leaves or capsules. The dried pods or dried leaves can be brewed into a tea. People should be cautious about using senna because some side effects can be dangerous. It should only be taken in small amounts and not used for longer than 1 week.
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Common Side Effects
The most common side effect associated with senna use is diarrhoea. The ingredient is potent and some people experience diarrhoea even with small amounts. Senna commonly causes mild abdominal discomfort. When taken in large amounts, senna also can cause nausea and severe abdominal cramping. Urine can turn reddish or brownish while taking senna. Additionally, habitual use of any laxative, including senna, can cause dependency, meaning people tend to become constipated when they don't use the laxative.
Senna can aggravate certain medical disorders including Crohn's disease, diverticular disease, colitis, ulcers and gastrointestinal cancer. People with congestive heart failure or kidney disease also should not use senna.
A case from the Gulhane School of Medicine in Ankara,Turkey, reported senna-induced hepatitis in an elderly patient who habitually took senna to treat chronic constipation. After discontinuing senna use, he experienced a slow and progressive decrease in bilirubin levels and liver enzymes, which is a positive effect. People with liver disease should not take senna.
Additional Side Effects
Prolonged use of senna can cause osteomalacia, or weakening and softening of the bones, and arthropathy, a type of progressive joint disease. It also is associated with cachexia, a disorder with symptoms of weight loss, muscle wasting, fatigue and weakness. Long-term use of senna can disrupt electrolyte levels, particularly decreasing potassium to dangerously low levels. Reversible finger and toe clubbing, or enlargement, can occur.
In Guyana in 2009, two girls aged 3 and 5, died after consuming 3 substances: senna pod tea, the medication Lomotil to stop the resulting diarrhoea and then bush tea. The deaths appeared to be caused by a combination of senna overdose and Lomotil, which can cause additional dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, potentially dangerous to young children.
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