Detox teas are a controversial topic. For thousands of years, humans have been trying to rid their bodies of what they believe are toxins. Some historic “detox” practices include bloodletting, enemas, sweat lodges or saunas, fasting, and drinking herbal preparations. Some of these practices were even accepted as medical treatments before the advent of modern medicine. In the age of social media, you might have seen celebrities or even your friends posing with a pack of detox-tea on Facebook or on Instagram.
Detox teas are usually a mixture of tea leaves and other natural ingredients like berries, fruits, spices, herbs and roots.
Do detox teas actually help to detox the body?
Tea is generally considered healthy. Multiple studies over the years have shown an association with tea and health benefits including cardiovascular health, blood pressure regulation, mood regulation, mental performance and maintenance of weight and energy levels too. Tea contains tea flavonoids, polyphenols, in particular catechins and epicatechins and antioxidants which health benefits are still being studied and validated. Whether or not teas slapped with a detox label does what it actually says – remove toxins – is still very debatable.
The additional natural ingredients may also have health benefits. Many ingredients of traditional medicine are currently being investigated scientifically, and some of them have been shown to have health benefits.
Real weight loss or just a loss in water weight?
Most of these detox teas do contain tea leaves, and tea does have caffeine. Caffeine is known to be a stimulant which can raise your metabolism. Caffeine can also act to suppress your appetite. Through such a mechanism, you might enter a caloric deficit by burning more calories, and eating less. This kind of weight loss is true weight loss.
However, certain detox teas do contain supplements which act like laxatives, or medical laxatives itself. The effect of these laxatives are claimed as colon cleansing, which is often recommended as part of a detox plan. Such laxatives can cause cramping, bloating, nausea and vomiting. Dehydration and electrolyte loss can also be a concern. Such a weight loss is mainly water weight loss, and is not healthy, nor sustainable.
Side effects or dangers of detox teas?
The detox teas that are conservative mixes of tea leaves and natural products are usually not more dangerous than regular teas. However some detox teas may include, in large amounts, natural products that have a prominent biological effect on our body. Some brands may also have additional chemical ingredients that could harm your health.
As mentioned above, diarrhea could be a side effect of these teas. These may be from the laxative effect of natural plant-based sennosides, or actual laxative medications. Excessive diarrhea can lead to dehydration and electrolyte loss, which may leave you lethargic and weak. Some compounds, including caffeine, are also diuretic, which can cause you to pass more urine than normal. Severe diarrhea and dehydration has led to death, so this is a side effect of concern.
Appetite suppressants or stimulants like caffeine are commonly found in detox teas. Ingesting too many stimulants may leave you irritable, unfocused and jittery, similar to when you drink too much energy drinks. You may also suffer from insomnia if these teas are taken too late in the day. Illegal stimulants like ephedra and medications such as ephedrine have been found in detox teas. These may trigger heart attacks, strokes, seizures and cause even death, especially in people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Diabetic medications that lower your blood sugar level have been found inside detox teas. People who are on detox teas may also be eating less, contributing to a lower blood sugar level. Such a situation can lead to hypoglycemia, where the sugar level in your blood is dangerously low. This can lead to sweating, confusion, shaking, loss of consciousness and even death.
Some of the herbs that are inside detox teas may have drug-drug interactions with the medications that people are currently taking, raising the levels of the medication in your body to toxic levels. Some herbs themselves if ingested in large enough quantities, may also put strain on your kidney and liver. This has the opposite of detoxing your body, poisoning your body instead.
Are there any benefits to detox teas?
Not all detox teas are harmful. Tea itself does have health benefits. The other natural ingredients (in conservative amounts) may also serve to improve your health. But please use it with caution and moderation. These teas, if used, should be incorporated into a healthier lifestyle.
Is it healthy to consume detox teas long-term?
The manufacturers themselves do not recommend taking detox teas in the long run. If you do decide to try out a detox tea, stick to the recommended serving guide, and be vigilant about any side effects that may occur. If these side effects are causing you any discomfort, it is recommended that you stop.
What are some recommendations for detoxing the body in place of consuming detox teas?
The human body is more than capable of clearing out waste products for the vast majority of us. This is what our bodies have evolved to do to keep us alive. Our kidneys, liver, cardiovascular system, gut and skin are all working hard every day to process all of the substances that we come in contact with, and they do a good job at it. The best thing to do is to not add additional burden to the body.
The very fact that you are considering a detox tea means that you are willing to do something to change your lifestyle for the better. Use this motivation to kick start good habits. The detox tea can be the spearhead in the charge to a better you.
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An overall healthy and balanced diet with whole grains, fish, fruits and vegetables, and less red and processed meat is a key component to a healthy life. Processed foods have been shown to be poor in nutrition, laden with salt and fat and contribute to obesity and cardiovascular disease. Unprocessed and minimally processed foods on the other hand are packed full of nutrition, keeps you full for longer and is essential for your bodily functions. Try and limit the frequency and amount of processed foods to a minimum.
Physical activity and exercise is just as important as the quantity and quality of food. The Health Promotion Board of Singapore recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity a week. Health benefits of regular physical activity include a 20 – 50% reduced risk of premature death, incidence of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, stroke, high blood pressure, colon cancer and breast cancer, to name just a few. If you are just starting to get into more physical activity, it is always advisable to start slow and ramp up your physical activity slowly. This will help minimize musculoskeletal injuries. The lack of time should not be an excuse to pass on both healthier food options and exercise
It is also advisable to drink lots of water. Water makes up about 60% of our body weight and is essential for our survival. Water gets rid of wastes through urination, perspiration and bowel movements. It keeps your temperature normal, lubricates and cushions joints, protects organs and tissues and maintains the electrolyte balance in our body to name just a few. This is the form of detox that definitely has no opponents.
Getting enough sleep every night is essential as sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health and quality of life. Sleep is the time where the body and brain heals itself and recharges for the next day. Sleep deprivation has been shown to be associated with chronic diseases, decreased mental and physical performance and even reduced immune function.
Just remember that there are no shortcuts to a healthy lifestyle. That however should not stop you from living the best life.
*Parts of this article were first published in CLEO.