Senna: The True Ex-Lax

There are natural remedies that can help ease constipation. One such option is senna, an herbaceous plant native to the pea family. It's used in some of my favorite constipation solutions.

Constipation is one of those not-so-exciting subjects that affects both children and adults from time to time, but because it is so common, it warrants a closer look.

Bowel movements tend to occur about once a day after children have reached the age where their diet is largely comprised of solid food. Starchy foods, such as bananas, rice, grains, and flour, tend to make stools firmer. Foods high in fiber like peaches, plums, and apricots have more of a softening effect. In a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, a balance is struck between different foods to create stools that are soft enough to pass comfortably without being too loose.

Constipation Causes

Constipation occurs when stools become backed up in the intestines. The longer they sit in the colon, the more water is reabsorbed into the body, leading to a hardening of the stool, and thus discomfort in passing it.

An older child may tell you that it’s hard to go to the bathroom, but it may be more difficult to tell with a baby. Signs that they may be experiencing constipation can include infrequency in bowel movements, or straining or crying when they try to go.

Senna & Constipation

There are natural remedies that can help ease constipation. One such option is senna, an herbaceous plant native to the pea family. Different varieties of senna can be found throughout the world. The native North American species, Senna hebecarpa, has been found in fossils dating to the Eocene Era. There are also records of its use by Arabian physicians in the 9th century, and as a food over 1000 years ago in Egypt.

Leaves and seed pods can be eaten raw in small amounts, or the leaves can be made into a tea. If you’ve heard of Smooth Move tea, senna is the main ingredient. Senna glycoside, found in the senna plant, is also what makes Ex-Lax work so well. Senna can even be found on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines.

How Senna Works

Senna works as a stimulant laxative, meaning it encourages peristalsis, or the movement of the intestines. While senna can be helpful when used occasionally, it is best not to rely on it for consistent use, as there has been some research indicating that regular use may lead to bodily dependency.

Because senna products are so popular, it may be prudent to ask the company of your choice about their sourcing methods. As herb use becomes more commonplace, some plants are becoming endangered in their natural habitat, including senna. 

Other natural remedies for constipation include our favorite drink: water! Hydration is always beneficial to the body, but especially in times of constipation. Water, apple and prune juice all work to lubricate the body from the inside out, naturally encouraging regularity.

If things don’t resolve themselves within a couple of days, talk to your pediatrician. There may be more at play, such as allergies. Milk, milk products and soy can cause constipation in those with a sensitivity to such foods.

Read here to learn more ways to balance the body through diet and nutrition.

Published on: March 15, 2020
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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