Wouldn’t it be great if losing weight were as easy as sipping on a cup of tea? As you scroll through Instagram, there’s a good chance you’ll come upon a post where a slim, all-around gorgeous celebrity or health influencer is raving about her favorite detox teas, also known as tea cleanses or teatoxes. Maybe she credits the stuff with jumpstarting her weight loss, helping her “cleanse” or debloat before a big event, or even bounce back into shape post-baby.
“People who endorse these products generally get paid massive amounts of money,” says New York-based nutrition expert Eliza Savage, RD. They have a vested interested in raving about how a detox tea changed their life in an ad or Instagram post, but it doesn’t guarantee that they actually swig the stuff on a regular basis.
Whatever the claim, it might get you wondering whether you could reap the same big benefits. But before you type in your credit card number and hit order, please (please!) read this. Here’s what everyone should know about these so-called miracle weight-loss elixirs.
What are detox teas and tea cleanses?
Detox teas are teas blended with some extra herbs that claim to help you cleanse your body and shed unwanted fat. The ingredients vary from brand to brand (DetoxMe, Teami, and SkinnyFit are three popular ones), but generally, you’ll get a mix of tea leaves, like green, black, or oolong, plus other plants and herbs that are touted for their ability to help you de-bloat and drop pounds. Often you’ll find tea blends with dandelion root, peppermint, yerba mate, ginger, lime leaf extract, and senna leaf.
Do detox teas help you lose weight?
The short answer: They probably won’t help cleanse your body or burn fat. With all of those enthusiastic testimonials, it might be tempting to buy in, but manufacturers aren’t required to prove that their tea blends actually work. And indeed, there’s no convincing scientific evidence that these tea cleanses do any of the stuff that they say. They might contain ingredients that some findings have linked to weight loss, but those studies are often tightly controlled and use very high doses of an ingredient or compound—much more than what you’d get from a tea.
“It’s kind of like starting a trip with a tank full of gas versus one dollar’s worth of gas,” says Julie Stefanski, RDN, CSSD, LDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. “Yes, the fuel is the same, but the amount isn’t going to get you anywhere.”
Do detox teas make you poop?
Many tea cleanses claim that they will help you “detoxify,” but those terms don’t clearly state how, and they aren’t regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), so manufacturers can slap them on product labels willy-nilly. Most of the time, they’re really just code words that the tea will make you pee more or have diarrhea, Savage explains.
This might help you feel lighter or make your belly appear flatter, but the effects are only temporary—and they can set you up for problems. “Not only can it interfere with your normal bowel schedule, but it could lead to dehydration or throw off your normal bowel function and gut flora,” Stefanski says.
There’s no guarantee that detox teas are safe
Dietary supplements like vitamins, herbal supplements—and yes, detox teas—are only loosely regulated by the FDA. Manufacturers don’t have to list every single ingredient in their tea blends, so it can be hard to know what you’re exactly getting—even if the label bills itself as “herbal” or “all-natural.” “Dietary supplements for weight loss have been found to have a high amount of adulteration. With a mixture like tea, it could contain nearly anything,” Stefanski says.
And it happens more often than you might think. Between 2007 and 2016, the FDA found some 750 dietary supplements to be adulterated with prescription appetite suppressants, laxatives, and even steroids, according to a recent JAMA review. Still, more than half of those products were still allowed to stay on store shelves.
Another important thing to remember: Even if a detox tea is made with only herbal ingredients, that doesn’t automatically mean it’s harmless. “Even natural ingredients can have significant side effects,” Stefanski warns. For instance, many of the teas contain caffeine in the form of stimulants like yerba mate or guarana. Both are considered safe in small amounts, but getting too much caffeine can cause headaches, dizziness, anxiety, and even abnormal heart rhythms, says the National Institutes of Health.
The bottom line: Don’t drink detox teas
Detox teas and tea cleanses probably won’t help you lose weight, and they might contain additives or ingredients that mess with your health. At best, they’re a big waste of money. And at worst, they could actually make you sick. “There’s no magic pill or solution for weight loss,” Savage says. “You should avoid these products like the plague,” even if you’re just looking for a fast, temporary assist to jumpstart your weight loss. “If mixing berries, tea leaves, and herbs together actually worked to lose weight,” Stefanski muses, “why wouldn’t every doctor in the country be recommending this?”