Senna was introduced as a medicine in 9th century by the Arabian Physicians. Senna consists of dried leaves and pods of Cassia.senna (Cassia.acutifolia) known as Alexandrian Senna. You can see this plant in middle and upper Nile territories, in tropical Africa but it is commercially grown in Egypt and Sudan. Other source of Senna is Cassia.angustifolia naturally growing herb in South-Indian peninsula regions namely Tinnevelly, Madurai, Andhrapradesh etc.So it is commonly known as Indian Senna or Tinnevelly Senna.
Why is Senna unique?
It is the presence of highest amount of Anthraquinone glycosides (chemicals containing sugar part and a nonsugar anthracene like structure) called Sennosides A, B, C, D and other such derivatives to which Senna owes its medicinal uses. The compounds of Senna have a stimulant property on the forward movements of the intestinal wall thus promoting proper defecation. Senna is unique in its laxative effect because as compared to other plants containing same compounds like rhubarb, the laxative effect of Senna has no astringent like after effects and is also not followed by constipation. Besides Senna also contains mucin, essential oils etc which further add to its property.
Health benefits of Senna
Senna finds use mostly as a laxative in constipation, in Senna tea preparations, some skin ailments, stomach preparations etc.
Senna as a Laxative : Senna and its preparations have been widely used as a laxative in Habitual constipation. The U.S. FDA has approved Senna as a non-prescription laxative. That means you can buy Senna as OTC (over the counter) medication for adults and children above 2 years of age. Propulsion of food from the stomach to intestine and then to rectum is necessary to allow proper defecation and this is due to forward movements of the wall of stomach and intestine (Peristaltic movements).
After taking orally, the compounds of Senna are first absorbed in the intestinal tract after which the nonsugar part gets separated in the colon. These separated nonsugar parts irritate and stimulate the intestinal tract thereby increasing peristaltic movements due to local action. This speeds up the passage of stools through the colon. Also Sennosides compounds prevent the absorption of water from the intestine and draw more water from the intestinal wall thereby increasing the volume of intestinal contents which also increases the pressure and causes subsequent evacuation of bowel. The presence of mucin (mucus) and oils further promote the laxative effect by lubricating the stools. Unlike other laxatives like Psyllium (bulk-forming laxative), it is not necessary that you should drink large amount of water with Senna, to prevent intestinal blocking by the bulk. , Senna is also sometimes used as a laxative to prevent constipation which is usually caused by use of opiod analgesics(medications used to relieve pain).
Senna as a Cleansing herb – Owing to its laxative effect Senna has been known as ‘cleansing herb. Senna as a laxative has also been found to be effective in cleansing colon before colonoscopy or other types of colon surgery.
Anthelmintic properties – The laxative effect of Senna has also been utilized to expel worms (anthelmintic) out of the stomach and colon.
Benefits of Senna in hemorrhoids – As Senna promotes formation of soft stools it has been explored for promoting easy defecation in pathological conditions like anal fissure.
Health Benefits of Senna Tea : You can take Senna in a number of ways like tablets, capsules, powder forms. You can also take it by mixing with some amount of honey. Now-days a widely used preparation of Senna is Senna Tea. You can make Senna tea at home by taking equal proportions of Senna leaf/fruits and cinnamon and boiling them with water in a closed vessel for 5-10minutes and then filtering off after cooling for 20 minutes.
Senna tea can help detoxification by expelling toxins through their laxative effect. A small study in 2005 indicated that Senna tea has been proved more effective than Erythromycin in increasing the movement of stools through the bowel. Senna tea may also aid in weight loss probably by preventing absorption of calories into the blood due to rapid stimulant laxative effect and consequent less residence time of food in intestine. However this use of Senna tea requires further investigation. Hence you should not use it as a source for weight loss or any other chronic condition without prior consultation to your physician.
Senna in Skin Infestions : Senna has been found beneficial in treating a number dermatological or skin ailments because of its antibacterial property. You can make a paste of Senna leaves and use it for infective skin conditions like acne, ringworm or other inflammatory conditions like eczema, etc. One another species of Senna having botanical name Cassia.obovata has been shown to provide protection against ultra-violet light by binding to keratin of hair.
Possible Side Effects of Senna
Use of Senna leads to a number of adverse effects on the digestive system of your body. You can experience milder effects like diarrhea, bloating, gripping, abdominal cramps besides nausea and vomiting. One of the remedy to minimize these after effects of Senna and to increase it palatability is to use it with some aromatic and carminative herbs like cardamom, ginger, fennel, liquorice, anise, coriander. As warned by National Institute of Health you should not use Senna for more than two weeks. Prolonged use may cause an imbalance in the normal level of electrolytes in your body thus predisposing to Heart disorders, muscle weakness, liver damage, anxiety, dehydration etc.
Precautions While Using Senna as a Laxative
Chronic and frequent use of Senna in pregnancy and small children is contraindicated. However short-term use is safe. If you are suffering from some inflammatory gastric disorders or any type of heart disease, it would be better if you use Senna after prior consultation to doctor. Sometimes constipation manifests as a symptom of some underlying disease. So in such cases self-treating with Senna or delay in taking standard medical advice may lead to serious outcome. Colon cancer is also a prolonged-use related risk of Senna.
Senna has specific properties which might not be possessed by any other herb. Hence when you are suffering from extreme constipation and nothing is available that can work you can rely on Senna to force out even the hardest feces out of your body within few hours of its use. But at the same time you should keep in mind that it has very potent laxative effect which can bring abdominal discomfort to you.