If you can’t stomach the green juices in most cleanses, there’s a new way to detox: teatox. These plans take tea—one of the world’s most popular beverages—and spruce it up with a variety of ingredients, promising results such as weight loss, detoxification, and increased energy, just as other detoxes claim.
And while there’s some evidence that drinking flavonoid-rich tea protects your heart, skin, brain, and bones; helps you manage stress and maintain weight; and fends off cancer and type 2 diabetes, there’s no published research to show teatoxes are safe or effective for weight loss or anything else. But since they are considered dietary supplements rather than foods, the companies behind them don’t need to prove any of the claims listed on the labels.
Although these products seem relatively benign, as with all dietary supplements, buyers need to beware before they use a teatox since the teas could interact with or alter the absorption and effectiveness of other supplements or medications.
It’s also important to make sure the products’ ingredients are safe. An ingredient of concern found in three of the four teatox brands I reviewed is senna leaf. This herb is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a nonprescription laxative used to treat constipation and to clear the bowel before a colonoscopy.
According to the National Institutes of Health, there’s insufficient evidence that senna promotes weight loss. But it does irritate the stomach lining to produce a laxative effect and can contribute to stomach discomfort, cramps, and diarrhea. Using it for more than two weeks (as you would following most teatox plans) is discouraged since it can cause abnormal bowel function or changes in electrolyte levels that can lead to heart problems, muscle weakness, liver damage, and other harmful effects. Since our bodies naturally cleanse and purify themselves by processing and eliminating them through sweat, urine, and feces, using laxatives like senna if there’s no real medical need seems like a waste (forgive the pun).
If your goal is to lose weight and get clean, skip the teatox. Instead, consume a nutrient-rich, calorie-appropriate diet that includes plenty of produce, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy in their lowest fat and sugar forms, and that limits highly processed and refined foods. Drink water, sip on regular tea if you enjoy it, be more active, and get enough sleep. Doing all of that is likely to be healthier and safer than taking a chance on an unproven and potentially unsafe concoction.
Elisa Zied, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., is a nationally recognized and award-winning registered dietitian. Author of the new book Younger Next Week (Harlequin Nonfiction, 2014), and three other consumer titles, Zied has garnered millions of media impression as a featured expert on Good Morning America and the Today Show, and in USA Today and dozens of other national print and online publications. She's an advisor and blogger for Parents.com and a current spokesperson for Got Milk?. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and New York University, Zied lives in New York City with her husband and two sons. Follow her @elisazied and on Facebook.