When trying to lose weight, it's easy to fall into the trap of gimmicks and quick fixes, like drinking senna tea, often touted as a "weight loss" or "detox" tea.
Because senna is a natural laxative, drinking tea made with the herb may help lower your number on the scale, especially in the beginning, but those pounds are water weight and not a good indicator of true fat loss.
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While drinking the tea to help relieve occasional constipation is OK, you shouldn't rely on senna for weight loss.
What Is Senna Tea?
Senna tea is an herbal tea preparation made from the pods, leaves and fruit of the Cassia senna plant. It can be available as the sole ingredient in tea or it may be combined with other detoxifying herbs, such as chamomile, milk thistle, dandelion or turmeric.
In addition to its inclusion in many teas, senna is also approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in over-the-counter laxatives.
In both tea preparations and over-the-counter medications, senna works as a stimulant laxative. When you consume senna, it triggers the muscular movements in your intestines, called peristalsis, that help move waste through the digestive system to send it through the bowel and, eventually, out of the body.
Stimulant laxatives can be quite powerful. They're the type of laxative that can send you running to the bathroom with an urgent need to relieve yourself. Because of its ability to stimulate bowel movement and empty your digestive system of waste, senna and senna tea are often marketed as a way to quickly lose weight.
Although regularly drinking the tea may lead to lower numbers on the scale, especially if you have problems with constipation, relying on senna for weight loss is not a good idea.
Loss of Water Weight
Most of the weight you'll lose drinking senna tea is in the form of water weight. By the time food reaches your large intestine, most of the calories and macronutrients in it have already been digested and absorbed, and what's left is mostly water and anything your body doesn't need.
Because senna acts on the large intestine, it triggers the loss of waste, but it also causes you to lose important minerals, electrolytes and fiber.
When you lose water, your weight may drop and you'll likely feel thinner, because your intestines aren't as full of waste and your stomach is flatter, but you're not actually losing fat. As soon as you drink more water and rehydrate, that water weight will come back and the numbers on the scale will go back up.
But it's not just that water weight isn't true fat loss that makes drinking senna tea for weight loss a bad idea. Losing too much water, and the electrolytes that are dissolved in it, can lead to dehydration and put you at risk of severe complications.
If you're drinking senna tea occasionally to relieve constipation, it's not a big deal. But when you're regularly drinking senna for weight loss, your risk of dehydration increases.
Other Side Effects of Senna
Drinking too much senna tea can also cause long-term bowel problems. When you rely on stimulant laxatives to go to the bathroom, it eventually makes gastrointestinal muscles stop doing their job correctly on their own.
As a result, your body ends up dependent on laxatives and you can't go to the bathroom easily without them anymore. Senna use may also lead to abdominal pain and diarrhea, even in the short term.
The National Institutes of Health notes that long-term use of senna tea, which is defined as a period of three to five months, may also lead to liver toxicity or damage. In most reported cases, liver injury was only mild to moderate, and it reversed when the person stopped using senna, but more severe damage may be possible with longer-term use.
If you already have diarrhea, or you have a bowel obstruction, you shouldn't drink senna tea at all. When it comes to senna, drug interactions are also possible. If you're taking certain medications, you should always talk to your doctor before including something new, like senna tea, in your diet.
Read more: 10 Everyday Ailments Soothed by Tea
Tea and Weight Loss
Senna tea may not be a good choice for weight loss, but that doesn't mean that other tea varieties can't help you lose weight. One study published in the journal Molecules in December 2016 reported that the polyphenols in black tea may help you lose weight by reducing the amount of fat and sugar you absorb, promoting the breakdown of fat and decreasing the amount of fat you store.
Another review, published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition in June 2015, notes that green tea may also help you lose weight by increasing the number of calories and fat that you burn. The report went on to say that it's the combination of catechins, specific types of polyphenols, and caffeine that's responsible for this weight-loss effect.
Read more: 19 High-Fiber Foods — Some May Surprise You!
The Importance of Eating Healthy
Cleveland Clinic registered dietician, Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD, notes, however, that no tea can counteract the effects of a bad diet. If you're eating a diet that's high in sugar, refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats, you're not going to lose weight, no matter how much tea you drink.
Instead of falling into the trap of "detox" or "weight loss" teas, focus on a sensible eating plan instead. Include plenty of fiber-rich foods, like green cruciferous veggies and fruits, in your diet. Examples include:
- Swiss chard
- Brussels sprouts
- Berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries)
Aim to eat between 25 and 35 grams of fiber per day and drink between 64 to 80 ounces of water to bulk up your stools and keep your bowels regular. In addition to eating a healthy diet, you should also exercise regularly.
Exercise not only helps flush out toxins from your body via sweat, but it also helps boost your mood, increases your energy levels and lowers your risk of chronic diseases, like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
- Cleveland Clinic: "What Can Tea Really Do for Your Health? 3 Myths, Debunked"
- National Institutes of Health: "Drug Record: Senna"
- University of Washington: "Senna Tea: Information Every Dietitian Should Know"
- National Eating Disorders Association: "Laxative Abuse"
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: "Dietary Supplements for Weight Loss"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Don't Bomb the Bowel With Laxatives"
- Molecules: "Mechanisms of Body Weight Reduction by Black Tea Polyphenols"
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: "A Minireview of Effects of Green Tea on Energy Expenditure"