Tea Cleanses: How They Work And Why They Are Dangerous

A beautiful young woman enjoying a cup of coffee while wearing a bathrobehttp://
A beautiful young woman enjoying a cup of coffee while wearing a bathrobehttp://
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Have you ever tried a 'tea cleanse'?

If you have, you might have experienced feeling lighter, less bloated and perhaps skinnier -- you also probably pooped, a lot, and felt incredibly hangry.

If you've never tried a tea cleanse, good for you (and please don't start) because, one, they don't work and two, they can actually be dangerous.

"Detox diets claim to flush toxins from your body leading to more energy and weight loss, promising amazing results in a limited amount of time," Charlene Grosse, accredited practising dietitian and Dietitians Association of Australia spokesperson, told The Huffington Post Australia.

"However, when it comes down to the scientific evidence, detox diets fall short and could potentially cause more harm than good."

Naturopath Lisa Guy agrees, saying that tea cleanses are ineffective and unhealthy.

"Replacing food with liquid is not a healthy way to eat. It is not encouraging a healthy relationship with food," Guy told HuffPost Australia.

What Detox Teas Are Made From

"A lot of popular tea weight loss teas contain senna (Senna alexandrina), which is a herb that has a strong laxative effect used to help treat constipation," Guy said.

"Senna contains the active compound anthraquinone, which irritates the colon and promotes bowel peristalsis and clearance. It also increases the accumulation of water in the bowels by inhibiting water and electrolytes from being reabsorbed back into the body from the colon.

"Rhubarb is another laxative herb used in weight loss cleansing teas."

What Happens When You Drink Them

"Detox teas are based on natural ingredients -- however, the laxative they contain can cause diarrhea in some people," Grosse said.

Yeah, no thanks, diarrhea.

"When having cleansing weight loss teas that contain laxative and diuretic herbs, you will lose fluid and you will be clearing out your bowels. So naturally you will be lighter, and will feel like you have a flatter stomach. You are not actually losing fat, though," Guy said.

According to Grosse, this feeling of 'lightness' felt when drinking detox teas can actually be a result of not eating the junk foods you might normally consume.

"Some people report feeling better on a ‘detox diet’ but this is quite often as a result of eating less foods high in fat, salt or added sugar, drinking less alcohol and caffeine while eating more fruit and vegetables," Grosse told HuffPost Australia.

If you are replacing food with these 'detox' teas, after a lot of running to the bathroom, the next step is weight loss -- but not the good, or healthy, kind.

"If you are having only tea, and no food, your calorie intake will dramatically drop so you will initially lose weight," Guy said.

"A large percentage of your weight loss though will be due to water loss. Water is bound to glycogen in the body, it’s the body’s carbohydrate reserve in the muscles and liver. When you cut carbohydrates from your diet your body uses up its glycogen stores and then you lose water, which makes you appear to lose weight quickly."

The Risks Associated With Tea Cleanses

The potential dangers of doing a tea cleanse -- particularly for long periods of time -- range from reduced bowel health to nutrient deficiencies.

"Detox diets often involve fasting and encourage severe restriction of whole food groups like breads and cereals, dairy or meat, usually lasting from three days to about a month," Grosse said.

"Excluding whole food groups from your diet makes it difficult to meet nutritional needs which can be dangerous, especially for children, adolescents, pregnant or breastfeeding women and older adults. A healthy diet should be balanced and contain a variety of healthy foods to meet individual nutritional needs."

"On these types of restrictive diets as soon as you start eating normally again you will usually put all the weight back on, and some more," Guy said.

Using senna and other laxative herbs found in these detox teas too often can also affect bowel health and function.

"Your bowels can lose tone and you can become reliant on taking these laxative herbs for a bowel movement. Long-term use of senna can lead to stomach cramping, diarrhoea, potassium and electrolyte imbalances and even nutritional deficiencies," Guy told HuffPost Australia.

"Another problem with being on a tea-only cleanse for too long is that you wont be getting any fibre, so no bowel movements. It's through our bowels that we eliminate a majority of toxins from the body."

As a result of excluding important foods and nutrients, people on a tea detox will also develop extreme hunger which can affect your mood and energy levels.

"You are also going to feel hungry being on a tea-only diet, it’s just not sustainable long-term," Guy said.

"You won’t be getting any protein, fibre and healthy fats to keep you full and your appetite satisfied. Your blood sugar levels will be affected which can lead to low energy, mood swings and sugar cravings. Not to mention nutritional deficiencies if you stay on a restrictive diet like this for too long.

"Your metabolism can also slow down, which is counter-productive when you are trying to lose weight."

Why We Don't Need Tea Cleanses

"Fortunately, healthy adults have extraordinary systems for removing toxins from our bodies every day," Grosse told HuffPost Australia. "Our lungs, kidneys, liver, gastrointestinal tract and immune system remove and neutralise toxic substances within hours after we eat them.

"While regular tea (such as black, green or herbal teas like peppermint and chamomile) can be part of a healthy balanced diet, the scientific basis of using a laxative tea is lacking and potentially dangerous."

How To Help Your Body Naturally Detox

"For good health, to encourage healthy detoxification and to maintain a healthy weight, we should be consuming a nourishing, well balanced diet, together with water, herbal teas and veggie juices," Guy told HuffPost Australia.

"When it comes to losing weight, there is no ‘magic-bullet’ and not all diets suit everyone," Grosse said.

"The best diet (for weight and overall health) is one that is based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines which is sustainable in the long-term. It is important to look at the diet as a whole, rather than individual foods for successful and sustainable weight loss."

A healthy, balanced diet means including plenty of vegetables, fruit, low fat dairy, whole grain breads and cereals, lean meats, chicken and fish, nuts and seeds.

"[It also means] increasing sources of fibre and reducing intake of saturated fat, salt and added sugar, as well as incorporating regular exercise, plenty of water and moderate alcohol if you choose to drink," Grosse said.

Moral of the story? Ditch the 'detox', 'weight loss' and 'cleansing' teas. They don't work and they can cause your body a range of problems.

"Eating a healthy, balanced diet would provide the same benefit with better nutrition," Grosse said.

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