Tea lovers aren't just sipping cups of plain old Earl Grey these days. For many, the allure of detox teas — those teas that purport to help you lose weight — is compelling. But there's more you need to know before you try one.
"Detox teas have some of the best marketing tactics in the wellness world," says Sarah Jacobs, a holistic nutritional counselor, health coach and creator of This is Not a Detox, a website focused on a "not-tox" approach to cleansing the body. "Many tea brands created cult followings after girls in bikinis started posting pictures that their secret is as simple as a hot beverage before bed."
Truth is, many of these teas contain nothing more than a laxative, a diuretic and caffeine, Jacobs adds.
Many teas include senna leaf, a natural laxative used to move waste through your digestive tract very quickly.
"Ingesting senna leaf can lead to dehydration, diarrhea and abdominal discomfort," Jacobs says. "And diuretics remove water from the body, which may help the number on the scale go down, but it has nothing to do with losing fat."
Brian Pfeiffer, owner of Design a Tea, an online artisan tea company that specializes in custom blending, says he's seen a surge in popularity, but he cautions people to do their homework first.
"We have to explain to many customers that they need to do a little bit of research on what they are asking us to put into their concoctions," he says. "Many herbs can interact with meds and/or influence the body in ways they might not know or want. Some people have simply opened a book, heard about or Googled detox herbs and want them all!"
The key is to use a tea as part of a healthy, balanced diet and an exercise plan. And don't forget — your body already knows how to detox if you'll let it.
As Dr. Michael Smith explains to WebMD:
"Your body is an expert at getting rid of toxins no matter what you eat. Toxins don’t build up in your liver, kidneys, or any other part of your body, and you’re not going to get rid of them with the latest detox wonder. Especially avoid diets that promise to detox your liver with supplements or 'cleanse' whatever the diet determines needs washing out."
What you should look for
If you're still interested in trying a detox tea in tandem with a healthy eating plan, here are the key things to look for:
The tea should support your body's natural detoxification and elimination channels. This includes the digestive tract, liver, bowels, kidneys, respiratory and lymphatic systems — even your skin, says Mary Bove, a naturopathic doctor and director of medical education at Gaia Herbs, an herbal supplements company.
The tea should address your overall health. "For example, a quality herbal tea, with ingredients like aloe, artichoke, burdock, licorice and fennel, would be used as one of several parts of a healthy program to help the body shed weight, and its role would be to support natural cleansing and detoxification rather than fat burning," Bove says. "In fact, weight loss is not the intention. Detoxification does not mean burning fat. Instead it means cleansing, removing waste and toxins that have accumulated in the body tissues, and supporting the channels of elimination."
The tea should NOT contain mostly senna. "This ingredient is a laxative, not intended for long-term use," Bove says. "Senna is meant to gently encourage the elimination process during times of occasional constipation. Because laxatives and diuretics remove fluid and waste from the body, respectively, they should be used as directed by a health-care professional, to maintain the balance of fluid and electrolytes in the body."
Marketing materials for the tea shouldn't make outrageous claims. "When choosing any product to support your health, you want to choose brands that can offer proof that what’s on the label is what’s inside," Bove says. "You'll want to be sure that the ingredients are pure, free of pesticide residue, heavy metals and microbes." You also want to avoid cleanse programs that recommend drinking only or mostly tea for a certain period of time (such as 14 or 21 days).
The tea shouldn't be bought just because a celebrity is promoting it. Seek out a well-trained herbalist for guidance, or consult with your doctor before embarking on a detox program, Bove says. "And before you place an order, consider the source. Rather than buying [teas] from an unknown online source, see which reputable brands are available at your local health food store. You are your own best health advocate."