health

Are the ‘detox’ teas you see on Instagram actually safe? A doctor and a dietician explain.

Content warning: This post discusses themes of eating disorders and mental illness which some readers may find triggering.

Celebrity endorsed and plugged by everyone from the Kardashian sisters to Britney Spears and even local Australian beauty influencers, the appeal of detox tea is obvious.

And with something as simple as tea promising effortless and fast weight loss, it’s no surprise that more and more people are reaching for popular detox teas like Flat Tummy Tea, Skinny Teatox and SkinnyMe to drop a few kilos in record time.

But is this quick fix too good to be true, and more importantly, is it even safe?

We spoke to a dietitian and a GP to find out everything you need to know about detox tea.

What is detox tea and what’s really in it?

Endorsed by hundreds of celebrities and influencers, it’s common to see a #teatox shared on your Instagram feed at least once a day.

But although the ingredients in these teas are expertly marketed as being ‘natural’ and ‘pure’, it’s not always the case.

Accredited Practising Dietitian Rachel Scoular told Mamamia that most detox teas are actually made up of a potent combination of highly concentrated compounds, including a lot of laxatives and diuretics.

According to Rachel, common ingredients include herbal laxatives like Senna and rhubarb, and diuretics including valerian root, burdock root and dandelion leaf.

“This potent combination of laxatives and diuretics means you’ll be running to the bathroom often, with frequent urination and bouts of diarrhoea,” Rachel told Mamamia.

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The effects of these ingredients can also cause painful stomach cramps, excessive gas and tummy discomfort.

Besides frequent trips to the bathroom, prolonged use of laxatives like Senna, can also have a long term effect on your body.

“Long term use can lead to stomach cramping, diarrhea and electrolyte deficiencies,” Rachel explained.

Regularly consuming the laxative herbs found in detox teas can also affect your ability to have regular bowel functions.

Sounds fun, right?

Will I lose weight on a tea detox?

Although you may lose some numbers on the scales after using a detox tea, a lot of the weight lost is just fluid.

After all, who isn’t going to feel lighter after using a combo of laxatives and diuretics for a week?!

“By clearing out your bowels like this, you’ll naturally feel lighter and with a tighter stomach, in the short term, anyway,” Rachel explained.

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According to GP Dr Ginni Mansberg, there is absolutely no scientific evidence to suggest that any type of detox tea has weight loss benefits.

“I’m not saying for sure that it does not work, but if there are any claims that are made, they are made without any scientific basis whatsoever,” Dr Ginni told Mamamia.

“The weight loss that you do have is probably more likely to be due to the extremely low calorie diet that comes with the so-called detox as opposed to anything inherent in the tea,” she explained.

“There’s certainly no evidence for anything magic or special in the tea.”

Rachel Schoul agreed, telling Mamamia: “Like with any diet, if you’re eating low kilojoule food and your energy intake is lower than your expenditure, you’ll be losing weight – regardless of whether you have the tea or not.”

Does the body need to be detoxed?

For some ‘teatoxers’, weight loss isn’t the primary goal.

In fact, some consumers reach for products like detox tea in an attempt to ‘detox’ their bodies after a period of unhealthy eating or a boozy holiday.

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However, despite what you may think, a detox isn’t really necessary – no matter how many vodka sodas you had last weekend.

Despite the common misconception that we need to ‘detox’ our bodies, our body already does itself – without the aid of a magic tea.

After all, that’s the whole point of our liver and kidneys.

“The body doesn’t need to be detoxed,” Rachel told Mamamia.

“We have a liver, kidneys, lungs and immune system which all do this for us on a daily basis,” she explained.

“These organs remove and neutralise toxic substances without the help of any teas.”

Ranging in price from $10 to $100+, detox tea is not exactly cheap.

“It’s a lot of money to buy those product,” Dr Ginni said.

“I think some women don’t have the money [to buy these products] and I think you can call it unconscionable conduct to claim these detox teas have special healing powers, which they absolutely do not.”

General Practitioner Ginni Mansberg shares the biggest misconceptions women have about their bodies, on I Don’t Know How She Does It.

Want to hear to more?  Subscribe to I Don’t Know How She Does It.

Are tea detoxes safe?

Although it may be marketed as a quick, ‘natural’ weight loss solution, there are some pretty serious side effects associated with using tea detoxes – especially on a long term basis.

On a short term basis, however, detox tea doesn’t have a huge impact on the body.

“If you do it for a short period of time, and all you do is a week or two, you’ll miss out on a few vital nutrients at that time, but then you can make it up afterwards,” Dr Ginni explained.

But according to Dr Ginni, the rapid weight loss that can come with detox teas isn’t the best thing for your body, as you’re likely to lose a bit of muscle bulk along the way.

“Any diet that makes you lose truckloads of muscle is not a great idea,” she said.

According to Dr Ginni, scientific research suggests that the best rate to lose weight is just half a kilogram a week, because at that rate, the majority lost will be fat as opposed to muscle.

When using a rapid weight loss program or a quick fix diet like a tea detox, you’re more likely to lose muscle.

“You don’t want to lose too much muscle, because muscle helps you burn fat at rest,” Dr Ginni explained.

On a long term basis, continuing a tea detox for anything longer than a few weeks can also mean risking serious nutritional deficiencies.

“This restrictive approach to eating and reliance on tea is rarely effective long term,” Rachel said.

As the diet plan associated with detox teas is often low in protein, fibre and healthy fats, it creates an enduring hunger effect, which can leave your metabolism impaired.

“Once you finish and start eating normally again you will usually put all the weight back on, and some more,” Rachel explained.

Users are also likely to experience fluctuations in blood sugar levels in the long term, leading to low energy, mood swings and sugar cravings.

Detox teas and eating disorders

Not only can detox tea lead to nutritional deficiencies in the long term, it also creates an unhealthy, restrictive approach to eating.

“Replacing food with liquid is not a healthy way to eat and it definitely doesn’t help to create a healthy relationship with food,” Rachel said.

Dr Ginni warned that women intending to use detox teas over a long period of time should contact a healthcare professional.

Kasey Chambers tells us what it was like to have an eating disorder.

“I think people who are starting to do a detox tea for a long period of time should perhaps get some health advice around their mental health,” she said.

“It does occur to me that if you’re not going to eat anything at all, and you’re going to have this detox tea for a period of months, then that raises a red flag to me around a potential eating disorder,” Dr Ginni added.

“You may feel that because your health icons on Instagram are using it, it’s not a problem – but it absolutely could be a problem.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, body image issues or mental illness, please seek professional help and contact The Butterfly Foundation National Helpline on 1800 334 673 or through email support via [email protected], Beyond Blue on or Lifeline on 13 11 14. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

Have you ever tried a teatox? What was your experience of it?

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