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Is Senna a Safe Laxative?

Published on , Last Updated on June 14, 2013

Senna Leaf

Senna is a powerful, stimulant laxative that may relieve constipation by helping to produce bowel movements. Because the herb is plant-based and approved by the FDA, many people believe that it is safe. Senna may be natural, but it can have some alarming side effects and everyone should be aware of the potential dangers that exist when taking any product containing senna.

Senna’s Action is its Downfall

Senna leaf, which is the part of the plant used to manufacture laxatives, contains sennosides, which are compounds that irritate the lining of the bowels and cause the laxative effect. While these compounds are responsible for the efficacy of senna, they’re also responsible for its problems. Not only will irritated bowels make you go to the bathroom, it’s likely they’ll also give you a stomachache, cramps, and diarrhea. Toxicology studies have shown that excessive use of stimulant laxatives significantly increases the potential for lesions in the intestines. [1] [2] Reports have also surfaced that laxatives containing senna have caused terrible skin irritations in toddlers. [3]

Dangers of Using Senna

The American Herbal Products Association has issued warnings against the long-term use of senna. Potential risks include serious problems like heart disorders, weakness, and liver damage. Additionally, people with heart disease, gastrointestinal conditions, or those that suffer from dehydration, diarrhea, or loose stools should never take a senna-based laxative as it can make each condition worse. [1] Furthermore, if you’re pregnant, thinking of becoming pregnant, or nursing, my personal feelings are that you should absolutely avoid senna. Why chance it?

Although I personally advise against using any product that contains senna… If you do use a product that contains senna, make sure to closely follow the instructions and pay attention to the warnings! Most senna products have a usage cap of two weeks, any longer and you may be risking severe bowel-movement irregularity and the potential for laxative dependency.

Better Options Exist

“FDA Approved” is not necessarily synonymous with “best solution.” The health risks associated with senna-based laxatives do not exist in other gentle, oxygen-based laxatives. If you’re affected by temporary, or even regular, bouts of constipation, consider the positive benefits of oxygen, rather than the dangers of stimulant laxatives. A safe and gentle product like Oxy-Powder can provide the relief you’re looking for without the dangerous side effects.

-Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DABFM


  1. National Institute of Health. Senna.11 Oct. 2011. (last accessed 2013-05-09)
  2. Surh I, Brix A, French JE, Collins BJ, Sanders JM, Vallant M, Dunnick JK. Toxicology and Carcinogenesis Study of Senna in C3B6.129F1-Trp53tm1Brd N12 Haploinsufficient Mice. Toxicol Pathol. 2012 Nov 2. [Epub ahead of print].
  3. WA Smith, Taintor AR, L Kos, B Drolet. Senna-containing laxative inducing blistering dermatitis in toddlers. Arch Dermatol. 2012 Mar;148(3):402-4. doi: 10.1001/archdermatol.2011.2750.

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