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Laxative Tea: Everything You Need to Know


Constipation is considered one of the most common digestive ailments worldwide, affecting nearly every human at some point in their life. Some people experience it only occasionally, whereas others deal with it more chronically.

The digestive tract is essentially a tube running from mouth to anus that is responsible for digestion, absorption and transportation of nutrients. This organ sustains our growth, development and health but its function can become easily compromised due to a variety of factors such as low water and/or low fiber intake, stress, sedentary lifestyle and others.

When material builds up in the colon, the last part of the intestines, and cannot be released efficiently and frequently, constipation occurs. Constipation leads to pain, discomfort, bloating, gas, cramping, and heaviness. Laxatives, including those in the form of tea, may be a helpful home remedy for those needing relief.

What is Constipation?

Constipation is characterized by one or more of the following:

  • Less than 3 bowel movements a week
  • Straining or pushing to evacuate
  • Passing hard, dry stool
  • Feeling as though there’s a blockage in your rectum
  • Feeling the sensation that you can’t completely empty your colon

What is a Laxative Tea?

A laxative tea is a tea made from herbs with laxative properties. These herbs combined with the hot water used to brew the tea help to promote more regular, and easier-to-pass bowel movements.

Which Teas Do People Use to Treat Constipation?

There are a few teas with known laxative properties, primarily senna, peppermint, and ginger.

Senna Tea

Senna alexandrina is a woody shrub with edible fruit and leaves that produce a stimulatory laxative effect when consumed. Senna is an FDA-approved over-the-counter laxative for short-term treatment of constipation or for bowel prep before surgery or a colonoscopy. Senna stimulates the nerves and colon to contract which helps to produce bowel movements. One randomized-controlled trial (STIMULAX trial) found that colorectal surgery patients receiving both stimulant (including senna) and osmotic laxatives recovered gastrointestinal function earlier with less post-surgery complications compared to those with placebo.

Peppermint Tea

Peppermint tea, made from the peppermint plant is a caffeine and stimulant-free beverage. Peppermint tea contains L-menthol and other phytochemicals that help to relax the nervous system and may be even more effective than anti-depressants, fiber and anti-spasmodics for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Limited research explores peppermint tea, however peppermint essential oils have been reported to relax digestive muscles thereby helping to reduce bloating, gas, spasms and pain and may be especially helpful for those with IBS.

Ginger Root Tea

Tea made from ginger root, a plant closely related to turmeric, is a caffeine and stimulant-free beverage. Ginger tea may also be consumed frequently for constipation-induced nausea or for slow intestinal motility. Randomized, controlled trials find that 1.0-2.0 grams a day of ginger reduces nausea and vomiting, and improves gastric function over placebo.

Are Laxative Teas Safe? Is it Okay to Drink Daily?

For short-term relief from constipation, the FDA has approved Senna as a safe option. When used long-term or at high doses, senna may cause discoloration of colorectal tissue which may increase colorectal cancer risk. In addition, Senna is reported to be an abused laxative (as well as other stimulant laxatives like dulcolax, cascara sagrada, and castor oil) and may lead to laxative dependence as the colon loses natural nerve and muscle response.

Long-term negative side effects from daily peppermint or ginger tea have not been reported, though peppermint has been associated with a short-term increase in heartburn symptoms in some people.

How Fast Do Laxative Teas Work?

How quickly a tea works is dependent on the type of tea and the desired outcome.

  • Ginger tea - works within 30 minutes to 2 hours in relieving nausea and inducing muscular contractions.
  • Peppermint tea – though no research specifies timing, peppermint tea likely falls somewhere between ginger and senna’s timelines.
  • Senna tea – usually produces a bowel movement within 6-10 hours so it is often recommended to be consumed before bedtime.

How Can I Prevent Constipation?

To help the colon function properly, make sure to drink about half your body weight in ounces. Dehydration contributes to the majority of constipation issues, so hydration is key in prevention. Other recommendations include eating the recommended amount of fiber (about 14g per 1000 calories), moving your body daily to avoid a sedentary lifestyle, and not ignoring the urge to go when you feel it. If you wait too long, your stool may be more difficult to pass.

Key takeaways

Senna is an edible woody plant that causes a stimulatory laxative effect in the colon which increases bowel movements. Take only short-term to avoid serious side effects.

Peppermint tea helps relax intestinal smooth muscles and may contribute to easier bowel movements and less intestinal discomfort.

Ginger root is closely related to the turmeric plant and contains two main bioactive compounds – gingerols and shogaols. These phytochemicals help to reduce inflammation and improve gastric and colonic motility, nausea and vomiting.

Senna and other stimulant laxatives may become habit-forming so short-term use only is recommended.

Teas work quickly anywhere from 30 minutes to 10 hours depending on the type.

The majority of constipation issues can be prevented with adequate hydration, fiber intake, activity and not ignoring the urge to go.

Conclusion

Nearly everyone in the world experiences the discomfort of constipation at some point in life. Teas provide an alternative to enemas and other standard remedies to help alleviate occasional constipation. Consider enjoying teas like senna, ginger, peppermint to improve your digestive function and quality of life.

Resources:

Cash, B. D., Epstein, M. S., & Shah, S. M. (2016). A Novel Delivery System of Peppermint Oil Is an Effective Therapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms. Digestive diseases and sciences, 61(2), 560–571. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10620-015-3858-7

Cornell Health. Laxative Use.

Dudi-Venkata, N. N., Kroon, H. M., Bedrikovetski, S., Lewis, M., Lawrence, M. J., Hunter, R. A., Moore, J. W., Thomas, M. L., & Sammour, T. (2021). Impact of STIMUlant and osmotic LAXatives (STIMULAX trial) on gastrointestinal recovery after colorectal surgery: randomized clinical trial. The British Journal of Surgery.

Khanna, R., MacDonald, J. K., & Levesque, B. G. (2014). Peppermint oil for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of clinical gastroenterology, 48(6), 505–512. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCG.0b013e3182a88357

Giacosa, A., Morazzoni, P., Bombardelli, E., Riva, A., Bianchi Porro, G., Rondanelli, M. (2015). Can nausea and vomiting be treated with ginger extract. European Review for Medical and Pharmacoholical Sciences.

Hanif Palla, A., Gilani, A., Bashir, S., Rehman, N.U. (2020). Multiple Mechanisms of Flaxseed: Effectiveness in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Medline Plus. Senna.

NIH. Symptoms and Causes of Constipation.

van Gorkom, B. A., Karrenbeld, A., van Der Sluis, T., Koudstaal, J., de Vries, E. G., & Kleibeuker, J. H. (2000). Influence of a highly purified senna extract on colonic epithelium. Digestion.

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