Science

You may need a detox from your teatox

Gair Rhydd Science investigate the vague weight loss promises made by teatox companies

By Lizzie Harrett

There’s nothing like a comforting cup of warm tea. Us Brits have a particular affinity for a nice brew, making it a familiar taste. Now imagine if something as recognisable as tea could make you lose weight, with little to no diet or exercise required? Welcome to the world of the “teatox.”

If you’re an Instagram user you may have seen celebrities including Kim Kardashian, Lindsey Lohan and Kylie Jenner promoting these products which are sold by companies such as BooTea and SkinnyTea. Through consuming two cups of specially blended brew they promise to “promote good health and weight loss” through detoxifying your intestines.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the company websites often offer few details about this actually works, often using ambiguous words like “cleansing” and describing it as a “lifestyle.” This masks the often unexpected side effects.

Sali* is a postgraduate student at Cardiff University who bought a week’s tea subscription last summer. “Celebrities I follow on Instagram were promoting it, saying that it made them feel good and kept the pounds off. It was exam season so I figured I could do with feeling a bit healthier.

“Little did I know that it made me constantly need to run to the toilet, as the effect of the tea was just to essentially empty the contents of my bowels. It definitely wasn’t made clear enough that it was literally a laxative.”

Some research into the ingredients unearths why this is happening. One cup of the tea is usually drunk in the morning. This blend is often riddled with caffeine from tea leaves including yerba mate, guarana and green tea. There is currently no consensus on whether caffeine stimulates weight loss or not, with studies suggesting it does both. The daytime blend also often contains dandelion root, which is renowned for it’s diuretic effect.

“The weight loss is primarily, and probably all, water weight,” stated Dr. Karin Kratina, a nationally recognised nutrition therapist. They added, “If true weight loss occurs, it is because a caloric deficit also occurred from a change in eating habits.”

However, it is the night time tea where the real “detoxification” process occurs. They often contain senna root and leaf, which both have a laxative effect and is often prescribed by doctors to treat constipation It irritates the colon, stimulating it to empty. You’re essentially going to feel much lighter after this effect. It’s not a simple trip to the toilet when you consume senna leaf though, with the effects lasting hours after consumption and it causing cramps, stomach discomfort and diarrhoea. Indeed, many of the teatox websites recommend that you ensure you have ready access to a toilet after consumption, without stating why this is the case.

Senna may also induce a dependence on laxatives. The US National Library of Medicine has the following recommendation about it: “Don’t use senna for more than two weeks. Longer use can cause the bowels to stop functioning normally and might cause dependence on laxatives. Long-term use can also change the amount or balance of some chemicals in the blood (electrolytes) that can cause heart function disorders, muscle weakness, liver damage, and other harmful effects.”

Many of the teatox programmes recommend a 28-day package, which is much longer than the recommended length of time. However, dependence may be exactly what the company needs – dependent customers will continue to purchase projects.

One of the companies has a recommended diet to follow while taking the course of supplement. It lists lots of carbohydrates and little protein, so is probably just encouraging this laxative effect.

Worryingly, the tea programmes have also led to unplanned pregnancies, with the laxative effects causing the contraceptive pill to be flushed straight through the body. Naomi Salt was a BooTea drinker and accidentally ended up pregnant. She told the Daily Mail: “I am over the moon now, but I was shocked and worried at first to say the least. I am regimental about taking my pill and my first reaction was ‘How has this happened?’”

Despite pregnancy being a side-effect, the fact that the teatox can disrupt the contraception is only stated in the small print on many of the company’s FAQ sections on their website.

The idea of inducing a cleanse through tea is laughable when you consider that our bodies naturally detoxifies through sweat, urine and faeces. Unless there is a medical condition that requires consumption of products like senna, you do not need to.

If you want to get healthier a nutrient-rich, calorie-appropriate diet combined with exercise really is the only way, rather than following a fad diet supplement which does not have any long term effects.

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