The supermarket shelves are full of ‘tea-tox’ packages and ‘skinny’ teas, promising everything from overnight weight loss to improved sleep. Perhaps you’ve been tempted – or maybe you’ve even bought a pack. But do detox teas really provide the secret to transformed health and instant weight loss?
We speak to GP Dr Louise Newson about the truth behind the detox tea revolution:
Can detox teas help you lose weight?
Because detox teas are not regulated, it’s hard to know what’s actually in them. ‘Detox teas aren’t regulated and they’re not all the same,’ explains Dr Newson. ‘Some are harmless, but some contain laxatives such as senna, which work by stimulating your colon to contract more than it usually does, forcing out water and waste.’
While senna may make you look temporarily slimmer (thanks to losing water weight) there’s no impact on actual fat loss, says Dr. Newson, because any calories from food have already been absorbed by this point.
The difficulty comes in working out which teas are safe, and which probably aren’t. ‘As a rule, teas with senna should definitely be avoided,’ she says. ‘Senna should only be used for short-term relief of constipation whereas many of these teas recommend use for weeks at a time when constipation isn’t a problem – which can be dangerous.
Is detox tea safe?
Natural means good for you, right? Not necessarily. ‘Just because something is labelled natural, it doesn’t mean it’s safe for us to eat or drink,’ explains Dr. Newson.
‘None of these products are regulated and manufacturers don’t really know the combined effect the ingredients will have on the body.’
And don’t make the mistake of believing the celebrities advertising it are taking it either. ‘It’s highly unlikely they’re using it themselves,’ Dr Newson points out.
Detox teas and medication interaction
From thyroid medication to antidepressants – sipping a seemingly innocuous tea could have serious repercussions on medication we’re already taking, it turns out. ‘Laxative teas could interact and stop medications from working – which is incredibly dangerous,’ warns Dr Newson.
If in doubt, have a chat with your GP or medical professional. Better to be safe than sorry.
Detox teas and contraception
Alongside other medication, widespread accounts of detox teas causing the contraceptive pill to stop working have already hit headlines and according to Dr Newson, it’s worth listening to.
‘When you suffer from diarrhoea (passing six to eight watery stools in 24 hours) there’s a high chance the contraceptive pill has stopped working because it hasn’t been absorbed properly,’ advises Dr Newton. ‘If in doubt, call your GP to find out the best course of action – you might need to take a replacement pill ASAP.’
Can detox teas help you sleep?
Thanks to most detox teas containing medium to high levels of caffeine (there are links to suggest caffeine can suppress appetite) it’s possible your sleep cycle could be affected, too – especially if you rarely drink caffeine normally.
It’s best to check how much caffeine you’re consuming either way – the general advice is that four or five cups of coffee a day is safe (which equals around 400mg of caffeine) although everybody has different tolerances.
Detox teas and vital nutrient absorption
The irony is, many people start drinking detox teas to be healthy and “detox”, but the laxative effect means food isn’t properly absorbed.
‘Going to the toilet too quickly after eating meansthe gut isn’t getting the opportunity to absorb food, which means vitamins and minerals aren’t being absorbed by the body either,’ explains Dr. Newson. The result? Drinking detox teas can have the opposite effect.
Detox tea and digestive problems
Dr Newton warns everyone against the misuse of laxatives. ‘As a doctor, I’ve seen lots of patients who have abused laxatives as teens experiencing serious constipation when older as a result,’ she says.
‘It doesn’t take long for laxatives to cause problems if you’re using them when you don’t need them. As well as affecting the chemicals in the blood (electrolytes) your gut can become lazy as a result, which means you’ll need to continue using laxatives long-term and become reliant on them – another problem in itself.’
And be wary of anything claiming to ‘speed up the metabolism’ too, says Dr. Newson. ‘Anything that speeds up the metabolism is dangerous because when you stop taking it, it can slow the metabolism down,’ she explains.
Will detox teas help you lose weight?
If you’re hoping to lose weight and keep it off, detox teas are not the best place to start.
‘Detox teas won’t actually help you lose weight – they’re just a temporary quick-fix which doesn’t last,’ warns Dr. Newson. ‘If you really want to lose weight and improve your health, you’re better off looking at your diet – increasing your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables, and cutting out processed rubbish – it’s a far safer, healthier way of doing it.
‘My rule of thumb is that if you’re embarrassed about the diet you’re on and don’t want to talk about it to friends, for example, then it’s probably not a sensible diet to be on!’