You probably know about the health benefits of tea (hello, antioxidants!), but are the health claims around detox teas legit?
We’re wary of any trend that involves detoxing with just a drink. By now, we’re all pretty aware that liquid diets can’t sustain our active bodies for very long, and most of the drinks celebrities swear by have little actual detoxifying effects. But a teatox, or tea detox or tea cleanse, is a gentler approach to the whole idea, namely because it involves adding a few herbal cups to your existing, healthy diet—instead of replacing meals entirely.
The idea of detox teas isn’t new: Giuliana Rancic famously used the Ultimate Tea Diet to lose seven pounds before her 2007 wedding, while Kendall Jenner recently attributed her runway-ready figure to her tea addiction (she reportedly has almost a dozen cups of detox branded lemongrass-and-green-tea blend a day!).
The Health Benefits of Tea
Tea’s health benefits cover almost every territory: A 2013 study analysis from Italian, Dutch, and American researchers found that tea may help lower your risk of stroke and heart disease, lower your blood pressure, increase mood and mental performance, and even keep your energy up and weight down.
But when it comes to detoxification, tea alone isn’t enough for the job. “No one food, herb, or remedy has the ability to cure ailments or disease, nor does it have the ability to ‘detox’ the body,” says Manuel Villacorta, R.D, author of Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet to Detoxify, Energize, and Supercharge Fat Loss. (This is also why you might want to hold off before trying to detox by drinking activated charcoal.)
In fact, there is no hard evidence backing the claims made by tea companies that their detox teas actually purify human cells. However, high-quality teas can help support the body’s natural daily process of detoxification—just as much as other foods and drinks can hurt this system, says Laura Lagano, R.D., a New Jersey-based holistic nutritionist. (Discover more about the health benefits of teas such as chamomile, rosehip, or black tea.)
Basic green and black teas are rich in antioxidants (and matcha green tea is more than 100 times higher in one powerful antioxidant)—the secret behind boosting your natural cleansing process. “Antioxidants work to reduce the oxidative stress and free radicals in our body, too much of which can cause chronic inflammation and even mutate our DNA strains, leading to cancer and other chronic diseases,” says Villacorta.
If green and black tea are helpful in their own, pure form, is there any upside to those bags branded explicitly for detoxing?
“Specific detox teas offer added benefits in the additional ingredients,” says Villacorta. Herbs like lemongrass, ginger, dandelion, and milk thistle all contain properties said to support a healthy liver, one of those organs in charge of your natural detoxifying process. Ginger has also been proven to alleviate oxidative stress within the liver, which indirectly helps the organ perform its cleaning task more efficiently, he says.
One thing to watch out for in detox teas, though, is a common ingredient—and herbal laxative—senna. “One part of detoxing is the cleansing of the intestines, and senna aids this process,” he explains. While it can be helpful as a night-time drink short-term, taking senna for too long can cause vomiting, diarrhea, electrolyte imbalance, and dehydration. If you feel stopped up, incorporate a senna tea for a few nights (Villacorta recommends Traditional Medicinals Organic Smooth Move). But stick to senna-free varieties for your habitual cup.
How to Get the Most Health Benefits from Tea
Both nutritionists we spoke to agree that drinking tea when you wake up and before bed can help your system rev up and calm down, depending on which variety you choose. If you’re a tea fanatic, work in a few cups throughout the day: Unless you’re sensitive to caffeine, you can probably handle five to seven cups a day without any negative side effects, says Lagano.
If you do choose to try a tea detox, the most important aspect isn't the kind of healthy tea you choose—it’s what else you eat: “Tea can only be medicinal and detoxifying if your diet isn’t taxing your system, which most American meals are guilty of,” says Lagano. In order to truly detoxify your body, cut processed and fried foods, and up your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and anti-inflammatory fats like avocados and almonds, says Villacorta. Once your diet is clean and gentle on your body, detoxifying teas can begin to enhance your natural organ function.
So what are the best detox teas to choose? If you’re really focused on a start-and-stop teatox (rather than just incorporating detox teas into your diet), check out programs like SkinnyMe Tea, which offers 14- or 28-day packages of high-quality, loose-leaf herbs to steep. Or save a little cash and try one of these four off-the-shelf detoxifying varieties, recommended by Lagano and Villacorta.
1. Dandelion tea: Dandelion aids liver function by helping to remove toxins and reestablish hydration and electrolyte balance (Traditional Medicinals EveryDay Detox Dandelion, $5; traditionalmedicinals.com)
2. Lemon or ginger tea: This revitalizing tea is great for the morning because the light amount of caffeine will wake you up without wreaking havoc on your stomach. Plus, the health benefits of ginger include reducing inflammation and controlling blood sugar, so you can feel good drinking this soothing tea. (Twining’s Lemon & Ginger, $3; twiningsusa.com)
3. Motivational tea: In addition to the inspirational messages on every tea bag, this particular Yogi tea variety includes burdock and dandelion to help your liver, and juniper berry to enhance your kidney function (Yogi DeTox, $5; yogiproducts.com)
4. Lemon Jasmine Green Tea: With chamomile and mint to calm the system, Villacorta recommends a cup before bed. Plus, it’s high vitamin C content means it’s chock full of antioxidants (Celestial’s Sleepytime Decaf Lemon Jasmine Green Tea, $3; celestialseasonings.com)