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Does Senna Tea Boost Fat Loss?

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There are a number of foods, herbs and natural nutrients that can improve your body composition and the way that you adapt to a fat loss program.

There are also a number of products that are marketed as weight loss products, whilst in reality have very little benefit.

In this article we’ll take a look at senna – a tea made from a flowering plant found in tropic regions. It is often sold as a weight loss aid, but is there any evidence to suggest that it can help you, or is just a supplement with false promises?

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What is senna?
  • What are its health benefits?
  • Does it help you lose weight?
  • Are there any side effects?

What is Senna?

Senna tea is a product derived from the senna plant. It is a native flowering plant to tropic areas. Its name derives from the Hebrew cassia which is a reference to the bark of the plant which can be peeled back in layers.

It is a small shrub from the fabaceae family that is characterized by bright yellow flowers, light green stems and veiny, apexed leaves.

It contains a number of bioactive compounds including glycosides such as anthraquinones – compounds often used to relieve constipation. It also contains a number of simple sugars such as sucrose, fructose and galactose – all forms of carbohydrates [1].

The plant has been used to make herbal medicines for centuries – the leaves in particular have been brewed into a tea to be administered as a potent purgative – basically it has laxative effects. It can be given as a powder or suppository, but more often than not as a tea.

Its action is to stimulate contractions of the intestines whilst at the same time soften stools by increasing fluids in the large intestine.

The tea has been used in clinical settings to treat those with bowel issues such as spinal cord injury patients, the elderly and pregnant women. Patients are also often administered the supplement prior to a colonoscopy as a way of preparing your bowels for examination.

Its primary use is to treat stomach upset, constipation and irritable bowel disease but this has led to an number of manufacturers developing branding for it to be sold as a weight loss product.

Does Senna Tea Help You Lose Fat?

Worryingly, you’ll not find any large-scale, independent research that backs up the claim that senna can boost healthy weight loss. This supplement appears to be marketed more on opinions and claims than actual facts.

Whilst there is clinical evidence to suggest that it can improve health parameters relating to the stomach and bowel illness, that does not necessarily mean that it can help improve body composition.

As a laxative it will make you go to the toilet – a lot. Not only will you eliminate waste, you’ll also lose a lot of water. Whilst you may then appear to be getting lighter on the weighing scales all you are doing is losing water weight. And of course once you replenish lost water you’ll put the weight back on.

Of course, when you lose water from the body you cause dehydration as well as nutrient loss and electrolyte imbalance. This will more than likely lead to side effects which also need to be considered.

A far better plan would be to eat a little less, exercise more and consider a supplement with more robust scientific backing. This will lead to better long-term weight loss.

There is a big difference between weight loss and fat loss. Senna has absolutely no effect on fat loss. A quick search of manufacturer endorsements and all you’ll find is that they claim to ‘remove toxins’ which can lead to fat loss and an increase metabolism. But it really doesn’t

To date there has been little evidence that removing toxins leads to favourable changes in body composition – nor has there been any evidence as to what these toxins actually are in the first place.

Does It Have any Side Effects?

There have been a number of clinical side effects reported that include diarrhea, stomach cramps and digestive discomfort. More worryingly though, there have been a number of individual cases mostly reporting liver damage.

One large review study of dietary supplements suggested strong causal links between using the supplement and hepatitis – a group of diseases characterized by inflammation to the liver.

Other related illnesses included acute cytolytic hepatitis, subacute cholestatic hepatitis, acute liver failure and portal vein thrombosis when senna products have been used.

In a case study published in The Annals of Pharmacotherapy [2], a 52-year old woman was diagnosed with acute liver failure after ingesting tea made from senna leaves for a prolonged period of time. Not only did she report symptoms of liver failure, but also suffered from kidney impairment, high urine cadmium levels and nephrotoxicity too.

Similarly, a 77-year old male reported abdominal pain, skin discoloration and elevated enzymes after chronic senna use for constipation [3].

With these severe side effects in mind, senna has been given a classification of possibly unsafe when taken for longer than two weeks. In effect, your body becomes too reliant on it leading to poor bowel function.

Summary – Senna Tea and Weight Loss

Senna tea comes from a plant found in the tropics. It contains a number of bioactive compounds that relieve constipation, and as such, has been used as a clinical purgative for constipation and other bowel illnesses.

There is no evidence that this supplement can boost weight or fat loss, other than through eliminating waste and water weight. And once the user of the supplement re-hydrates they will put the weight back on.

There have been a number of liver-related side effects reported with chronic tea use. This include acute liver failure, portal vein thrombosis and liver hepatitis.

There is no benefit to this supplement other than an acute loss of water weight. To truly improve weight loss and body composition you need to choose a supplement that will boost results in the long-term.

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  1. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals . London, England: The Pharmaceutical Press; 1996:243-244
  2. Vanderperren, B et al. Acute Liver Failure with Renal Impairment Related to the Abuse of Senna Anthraquinone Glycosides. The Analls of Pharmacology. 2005; 39
  3. Sonmez, A et al. Subacute cholestatic hepatitis likely related to the use of senna for chronic constipation. Acta Gastroenterol Belg. 2005;68(3): 385-7