You’ve seen the ads: Drink this tea, detoxify your body! Lose weight, and flaunt rock-hard abs. Seems too good to be true? It is.
Tea detoxes, also referred to as “tea-toxes” are no magic bullet. Despite the name, there’s no proof that these expensive blends will clear specific toxins from the body. Luckily, in healthy people, the liver, kidneys and skin do a great job of ridding the body of toxins. So is there a place for tea-toxing?
Like many trends that pop up, there isn’t much evidence supporting or refuting the overall benefits of tea-toxing. However, taking a look at what’s in these teas provides some insight.
What is tea-toxing?
Marketed as a way to lose weight, cleanse and detoxify the body, boost metabolism and suppress appetite, tea-toxing has picked up steam as the latest way to achieve a svelte and healthy body. Sold under many names — including rhubarb or bamboo teas or simply “detox” — tea-tox cocktails come in a variety of blends and flavors. It’s often recommended to drink the teas for a week up to a month at a time. Prices vary, but most cost around $35 for a seven-day tea-tox package.
Ingredientwise, each tea-tox blend is different. Some contain herbs like dandelion and milk thistle, which tout properties to support healthy liver function or enhance the natural detoxifying process. When taken in normal doses, these additions don’t pose any major risks to healthy individuals.
Senna leaf is another popular ingredient in tea-tox blends. What does it do? Well, it’s an FDA-approved nonprescription drug used to treat constipation. While safe for short-term use, it is not recommended on an ongoing basis, and you should expect similar GI effects with a senna-based tea detox as you would a laxative.
Licorice is often included as a natural sweetener and touted as a weight-loss aid. Does it work? Maybe. On the one hand, some research suggests licorice helps reduce body fat when taken in sufficient doses while other evidence suggests long-term use of licorice does pose a number of health risks.
Though they may result in some weight loss, there’s no evidence that these teas will purify or cleanse the body of specific toxins.
Can you lose weight by tea-toxing?
Tea-toxing has become popular because it can result in weight loss –– even if it’s temporary.
Most tea-tox blends include senna leaf as a main ingredient. Senna’s laxative effect gives tea drinkers the feeling that the body is being cleansed or detoxified. In the absence of food, particularly carbohydrates, drinking lots of water (or tea in this case) can make the belly appear flatter and result in smaller numbers on the scale. Weight loss may also occur due to the fact that some tea-tox programs suggest replacing a meal with teas or going on a special diet, which can independently lead to weight loss.
In most cases, once you put down the tea or resume a regular eating pattern, any weight lost will return.
What are the side effects and safety concerns?
Having a cup of detox tea on occasion presents little risk to most healthy people. However, long-term use is not recommended. Here’s why:
- When used long term or in high doses, senna has been linked to dehydration, laxative dependence and may harm the liver.
- Taking licorice daily for several weeks has been linked to high blood pressure, electrolyte imbalance, paralysis and other conditions.
- Some detox teas may reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills.
- There’s little regulation over detox teas. You can’t be sure how much of an ingredient you’re getting and how it might affect you or interact with supplements or medications.
Bottom Line: Sipping a cup of detox tea is not a fast pass to a healthier body. We all feel a need to clean things up from time to time. Instead of turning to expensive detox teas or elixirs, clean up your diet instead. Add more fruits and vegetables, drink plenty of water, get adequate sleep and stay active to achieve and maintain lifelong health and well-being.
Senna. In: Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Stockton, CA: Therapeutic Research Faculty. [Updated February 16, 2015; Accessed July 11, 2016].
Licorice. In: Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Stockton, CA: Therapeutic Research Faculty. [Updated May 24, 2015; Accessed July 11, 2016].