You won’t find a magic bullet for weight loss – and that also holds true for “magic” brews like detox tea. At first, you might shed excess water weight and digestive waste to feel a bit lighter. But there’s no evidence backing detox teas for significant, lasting weight loss.
Detox products are classified as dietary supplements, which means their ingredients are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Some detox teas include powerful over-the-counter laxatives with a number of harmful side effects.
Potential health risks of detox teas include diarrhea, dehydration, dangerous electrolyte imbalances and medication interactions. Experts also warn of potential mental health issues like eating disorders that have been linked to the use of dietary weight-loss supplements.
What Is Detox Tea Made Of?
Ingredients found in detox tea affect the body in a variety of ways. This is just a sample of the many ingredients used in a variety of combinations:
- Senna, a plant with leaves and fruit that are used medicinally, is approved in the U.S. as an over-the-counter medicine for short-term treatment of constipation.
- Yerba mate is a caffeine-producing plant whose leaves are used as a stimulant.
- Garcinia cambogia is a tropical fruit purported to control appetite and reduce fat storage in the body.
- Cassia chamaecrista is a legume (partridge pea) used for its laxative effect.
- Gotu kola, a member of the parsley family, has multiple medicinal uses including wound healing.
Products marketed as detox tea are a mixed bag. Types of tea and other plant and herbal ingredients differ widely from brand to brand. These are a few of the tea-based detox products on the market:
- Bootea 14 Day Teatox Daytime Tea: Bootea products should be combined with a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise for the best possible results, the company website notes.
- Fit Tea 14 Day Detox: The Fit Tea formula doesn’t aim to “fix your problems overnight” and should be used in combination with regular exercise and a healthy diet, according to the company website.
- SkinnyFit Detox Tea: These laxative-free products can help you reduce fat, release toxins and fight bloating without fasting or fad dieting, the product’s website claims.
Though detoxification for weight loss is described in different ways, it generally involves fasting for a few days as well as “cleansing” your body of toxins through various means. But research specifically focused on detox teas for weight loss is hard to come by.
“The evidence is very limited to support that fact that a tea – however you would define the detoxification process – is really going to lead to substantial or significant weight loss,” says Cassie Vanderwall, a registered dietitian in the department of clinical nutrition at UW Health in Wisconsin.
Nutrition experts define significant weight loss as shedding at least 5% of your initial body weight. “I have yet to come across a tea that can do that,” Vanderwall says.
Your Body Can Detox Itself
The notion of ridding your body of impurities may sound appealing. The reality is that your body can do the job on its own.
“Some detox teas focus on weight loss,” says Carrie Dennett, a Seattle-based registered dietitian nutritionist. “Some focus on removing toxins from the body. Some of the teas contain ingredients that are purported to support liver health.”
However, detox products are unnecessary, Dennett says: “Our livers do a perfectly good job of detoxing our bodies, on their own, with the assistance of our lungs, digestive system and kidneys – so they don’t need the help of a tea.”
The body has ways to get rid of waste products safely and gradually without disrupting delicate fluid and electrolyte balances, which could happen with detox teas and their diuretic effects. Diuretic use can lead to too-low levels of sodium and potassium in the blood. Headache, dizziness and muscle cramps can result from electrolyte imbalances, as well as more serious problems like an irregular heartbeat.
Although detox ingredients may be natural, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re innocuous. Detox teas could be relatively safe or risky for your health, depending on which type you choose and how much you drink.
“Some of them are pretty benign and some of them may be harmful,” Dennett says. “On the (more) benign end, some teas do contain herbs or other ingredients that have a diuretic or laxative effect.” Those effects can make people mistakenly believe they’re on the way to substantial weight loss.
For instance, some detox teas contain dandelion root. “It’s pretty safe,” Dennett says. “It can make you pee a little more.” Still, she emphasizes, it won’t make you lose weight.
Senna, on the other hand, is more potent. “Senna can have a number of side effects,” Dennett says. “It has a laxative effect and some people experience things like abdominal pain and diarrhea. If taken in excess, it can cause electrolyte imbalances, which may lead to things like muscle spasms and abnormal heart rhythms – which nobody’s really trying to sign on for.”
“These (products) might make you feel lighter because you’re shedding more water or eliminating waste from your digestive tract a little bit faster,” Dennett says. “But those effects are just temporary – you’re not really losing weight. When people say they want to lose weight, mostly they’re talking about body fat, and these teas are not helping you do that.”
Detox teas could interact with prescription or over-the-counter medications, as well as other dietary supplements you may be taking. They could potentially blunt or amplify a medication’s intended effects. If you’re considering trying a detox tea, talk to your doctor and pharmacist first.
Consumers are exposed to misleading marketing that touts dietary supplements for weight loss, including products like detox teas, says Bryn Austin, a professor of pediatrics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“These products are a sham, to put it bluntly,” Austin says. Most of the time, they’re laxatives wrapped up in marketing language that make them sound healthful, she says. “But in fact, they can be very dangerous.”
Consumers may assume dietary supplements are safe because they’re available through established retailers. “Most people do not realize that these products are not prescreened for safety or efficacy before they get to market,” Austin says.
“Our culture is weight-obsessed, way beyond any consideration of health or mental health, driving people – especially girls and young women – to take risks with their own health and well-being to try to lose weight or maintain low weight,” says Austin, who is also president of the Academy for Eating Disorders.
Unrestricted access for children is a concern, she adds: “A 12-year-old could go into any corner pharmacy or grocery store and buy these products sold as detox teas.”
Weight-Loss Supplements and Health Risks
Austin has conducted extensive research on harms linked to the use of dietary supplements for weight loss, which includes products like detox cleanses.
In one study, the research team evaluated data on nearly 1,000 serious adverse events reported to the FDA that were related to single dietary supplements in young people up to the age of 25.
Over an 11-year period, severe medical events – including death, disability, life-threatening problems, hospitalization or emergency room visits – were almost three times as likely for weight-loss and similar supplements compared with cases of severe events related to vitamin supplements, according to the study published in the October 2019 Journal of Adolescent Health.
Recent research by Austin and colleagues shows an increased risk for young women of being diagnosed with an eating disorder within three years after using over-the-counter diet pills or laxatives. The study appears in the January 2020 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
Quick Fixes With a Lasting Let-Down
It’s not really surprising that many consumers are willing to pay for products like detox teas. “Any quick fix is attractive because it takes little effort,” Vanderwall says.
However, Vanderwall says, the long-term impact can be quite negative, adding to stigmatization of people who are obese or overweight if products don’t deliver on promised weight-loss effects. Consumers may blame themselves and wonder what they did wrong.
That can result inguilt and shame, Vanderwall says. “So that’s personally one of the reasons that I’m not a fan of fad diets or products such as detox teas, where the evidence is so limited – because it comes back to where it’s truly harming the individual.”
It’s easy to get sucked in by marketing hype. When Instagram influencers push detox teas for weight loss, consider which other factors might be contributing to their svelte appearance and think critically before you buy in, Vanderwall advises.
Dennett also notes that celebrities may have access to personal trainers and private chefs, advantages far beyond the means of many people. When you see a celebrity pushing a tea or similar products, it’s natural to assume that the product is responsible for how they look, she says: “We totally forget that it’s a combination of genetics, diet and exercise that helped them look the way they do.”