Do detox teas and detox cleanses really work?

Should you drink detox teas?
Should you drink detox teas?

Scroll through Instagram and you’re bound to find a reality star or 10 posting ads for one of their fave “slimming” drinks. But, what is it about those detox teas in particular that make celebs swear by them for weight loss? Are they really better for you than your standard cup of Lipton?

Tell me a little bit about detox teas – like what are they?

Basically, these are teas that claim to flush toxins out of your body, and many of them promise weight loss as an added bonus – and there are a ton of them out there competing for your attention (and your cash).

In addition to the herbs these teas contain (you know, as all teas do), detox teas typically highlight specific ingredients known to have diuretic or laxative properties, as well as appetite-suppressant qualities – nettle leaf, dandelion leaf and senna leaf are common ones, says Alyssa Ardolino, a registered dietician at the International Food Information Council. Some of the teas also have caffeine in them, which can also act as a diuretic.

Read more: 4 teas you didn’t know had such amazing body benefits

So… do they actually work for weight loss?

Here’s a bit of honesty: Yes, they will result in weight loss – but it’s only the temporary kind. Detox teas only really lead to water or waste loss, says Ardolino  – but they don’t facilitate increased fat burning, which is crucial for weight loss that’s actually sustainable. End of story.

As for the claims that these detox teas “flush toxins from your body” – that’s nonsense too. “Detox teas are a marketing scheme,” says Ardolino. “You already have a liver and a set of kidneys that remove toxins from your body.” (And these organs do this, 24/7, for free.)

Basically “there’s no research that detox teas improve health”, says Ardolino – in fact, they may even cause harm.

Wait, detox teas can actually be bad for you?

You know those laxative ingredients found in detox teas? Yeah, those can actually cause some pretty gnarly side effects, like diarrhoea, stomach pains and even dehydration, says Ardolino.

Take senna, for example – senna is an herb, but it’s also an over-the-counter laxative; it can even be used to clear the bowels before diagnostic tests like a colonoscopy.

And while it’s “likely safe” for most people when taken short term, it’s “possibly unsafe” when taken long term, frequently, or in high doses, per the NLM – in those cases, senna may cause laxative dependence or liver damage.

Additionally, if you’re not eating anything and only drinking detox teas, or are using detox teas for the soul purpose of weight loss (i.e., not losing weight and getting healthier), you may need to consider your relationship with food.

As a healthier measure, Ardolino recommends speaking with a registered dietitian to learn how to incorporate some health-promoting behaviours into your life.

Read more: 5 amazing benefits of green tea that you didn’t know about

Well, what should I do instead of drinking detox teas?

Wanting to lose weight (and deciding to do so) are two extremely personal decisions – and according to Ardolino (and most other registered dietitians), the best route to better health and sustainable weight loss is improving your diet (adding more whole grains, fruits and veggies) and getting regular exercise. That’s it.

And as for all you tea lovers out there, nix that detox tea for regular, non celeb-endorsed tea that’s been around for centuries. Just don’t expect those regular teas to be a magic bullet for weight loss, either.

The bottom line: Detox teas, while super popular, aren’t a healthy, sustainable way to lose weight. The only way to do that for real is through diet changes and exercise.

This article was originally published on 

Image credit: iStock 

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
27% - 9950 votes
73% - 26289 votes