Detox diets, drinks, and supplements all play starring roles in American fad diets. They’re so widely known, that they’ve become standing jokes on TV shows and other cultural icons. (Just to be clear, you know mixing water with lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup does nothing except make you a major grump for 10 days, right?)
Detox teas are the next in line for a drink that claims to help you lose weight and jump-start healthy habits. Celebrities like Kylie Jenner have posted photos on social media supporting certain brands, and the herbal teas that include “skinny” in the name subconsciously make us believe that if we drink enough of the magic brew, that’s exactly what we’ll be. The fad even has its own trendy term: When you can add #teatox to artsy photos of your dandelion tea, it has to be doing something good for you, right?
Experts agree that when used correctly, certain herbal teas can help your body’s natural digestion and detoxifying processes. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll drop a few pant sizes or be instantly healthier. In fact, detox teas can as bad for you as any other “miracle” weight-loss supplements, with nasty side effects and few permanent results. Here are a few issues with the detox teas, and how you should use them properly to avoid any unwanted results.
1. The tea won’t actually “detox” your body
First things first: Your body is already designed to get rid of toxins on its own. A few glasses of tea could help in that process, but the tea itself doesn’t have any miracle powers. “No one food, herb, or remedy has the ability to cure ailments or disease, nor does it have the ability to ‘detox’ the body,” Manuel Villacorta, R.D. and author of the book Whole Body Reboot, told Shape.
The main idea behind detoxes is that your body is full of additives and toxins from the food you eat that leads to weight gain, tiredness, bloat, and other issues. However, a detox drink isn’t going to be a cure-all. “That’s not the way the body works,” Dr. Pamela Peeke, an obesity specialist and author of Body for Life for Women, told dietitian Janet Helm. “Don’t insult your liver. It’s perfectly adept at getting rid of any toxins.”
High-quality teas won’t do the heavy lifting, but they can aid your liver in efficiently ridding your body of toxins naturally. Green and black teas are high in antioxidants, which boost the natural cleansing process. Teas billed for detoxing can contain ingredients like lemongrass, ginger, dandelion, and more, which can also support the liver’s primary functions.
2. You won’t lose much real weight
The scale might dip lower for a few days if you start a detox tea regimen, but you’re probably only getting rid of water weight, not fat. As soon as you start back with your typical diet, those pounds will return.
You should still be eating real food while you drink the detox teas, but some of the ingredients in the brews themselves will push water from your system. Caffeine is often a key ingredient, which can be a diuretic. Yerba mate and dandelion also have diuretic properties, meaning you’ll be making more frequent bathroom stops, but the weight loss will likely be short-lived unless you’re also pairing it with a new, leaner diet.
“Just two cups of water weighs one pound on a scale, so shedding fluid can make you look and feel lighter — even if you haven’t lost an ounce of body fat,” Health advises. You might feel better at first, but the results won’t stick around. “Water weight loss is very temporary — and once you rehydrate — you’ll likely regain any of the weight you had shed,” Livestrong reports.
3. You still have to eat well for it to work
Even if you chug five cups of detox tea per day (and we don’t really recommend you do), you won’t see results if you’re still subsisting on Big Macs and ice cream. “Tea can only be medicinal and detoxifying if your diet isn’t taxing your system, which most American meals are guilty of,” holistic nutritionist and dietitian Laura Lagano told Shape.
You do have to eat actual food, too. Helm recommends getting at least 1,000 calories per day if you’re going to try an extreme approach to kick-start a weight loss program. (This should bump back up after a few days.) A liquid diet won’t do the trick, since that ultimately leads to muscle loss from calorie deprivation. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics doesn’t recommend any detox products, but says that eating five to nine servings of fresh fruits and vegetables per day is one of the best ways to support your body’s natural detoxifying efforts.
Unless you’re already eating well, the teas will have little to no effect, Stella Metsovas, a gut health specialist and California-based certified clinical nutritionist, told Teen Vogue. “Nothing will magically detox your digestive tract — which includes your colon — unless your diet has a large percentage of plant-based fibers,” Metsovas said.
4. There can be some nasty side effects
Tea itself isn’t likely to cause you any problems, no matter how much you drink. However, certain additives in the detox teas in particular can be unpleasant or even harmful, especially if you drink too much.
One of the key ingredients in some versions is senna, which acts as a laxative. Teas with senna should only be used sparingly, since long-term use can lead to digestive issues, Livestrong reports. Used long term, laxatives can also eventually contribute to electrolyte imbalances.
Senna is FDA-approved for treating patients with constipation and is known as a “stimulant” laxative. As a result, Teen Vogue reports users are likely to experience cramping, stomach discomfort, and/or diarrhea. Several people who have tried a few of the teas that use senna told Teen Vogue they woke up with severe cramping in the middle of the night after just one cup. Still others reported that their periods became irregular or stopped completely while they were drinking the tea, though experts aren’t exactly sure why. Perhaps most importantly, some of the teas are known to interfere with birth control methods, which means you should be doubly cautious with your contraception.
5. It can interfere with your sleep
The caffeine in the tea itself is enough to keep you awake at night if you’re sensitive to the stimulant. Health recommends forgoing caffeine at least six hours before sleep, whether it’s coming from one of the teas or another source. As the publication points out, a lack of proper shut-eye has been linked to food cravings and unhealthy habits that can lead to weight gain, perhaps undoing any benefits you were gaining from the drinks in the first place.
As we mentioned before with the senna, the nighttime detox teas can cause digestive disruptions, which pretty much guarantees a sleepless or fitful night. Whether you’re drinking a detox tea or not, sleep is always beneficial for weight loss. Most experts will say it’s the foundation for setting your body up to expend energy in the best ways possible, helping you slim down as you make other healthy decisions like eating better and getting exercise.