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Are Detox Teas Doing Your Gut More Harm Than Good?

The Teatox Craze

According to a 2019 study on how satisfied (or dissatisfied) people are with their current weight, 2 in every 5 Singaporeans are dissatisfied with their weight. The same study also revealed that the younger crowd is less satisfied than their older counterparts. 

Unfortunately, in the pursuit of weight loss, many people turn to quick-fix solutions such as detox teas. Many of these teas have been touted and promoted by famous celebrities and online influencers. Forget juice cleanses — if you’ve been on Instagram or Facebook, you’ve probably stumbled upon the new weight loss fad that took social media by storm called “teatoxing”. As the name suggests, Teatoxing, or drinking detoxification teas, supposedly help clear the body of toxins and assist in weight loss. 

However, although these teas contain your typical morning tea ingredients, they may also have dangerous chemicals or natural herbs that could irritate your digestive system, affect bowel function or cause allergies. In fact, to date, there are no clinical studies proving that they’re a good tool for weight loss. In this article, we get the lowdown on detox teas and enlist the help of Colorectal Surgeon, Dr Aaron Poh, to provide us with valuable insight on how these teas may cause harm to our digestive system. 

Just cause it’s “natural” doesn’t mean it’s good for you

These detox teas usually come in two sets — one to be consumed at night (to expel waste) and the other taken every morning (to boost metabolism). This means they often contain ingredients with a laxative effect, diuretic properties and high levels of caffeine. Some of these ingredients are:

  • Green tea
  • Natural laxatives like senna leaves
  • Caffeine
  • Guarana, a dietary supplement and stimulant, four times more potent than caffeine
  • Medications
  • Chemicals

It’s important to note that just because something is all-natural doesn’t mean it is healthy for you. For example, although senna is a natural herb, in high doses it can cause liver injury. Sennosides irritate the lining of the bowel, causing the intended laxative effect. However, long-term use can cause the bowels to stop functioning normally and may create a dependence on laxatives.  

“Rushing to the toilet may not necessarily be expelling dietary fat, but rather just be losing water”, explains Dr Aaron Poh.

Detox Tea Side Effects

Although it may be true that the detox tea can cause weight loss, this loss is often just water weight. Other dangerous side effects include:

Diarrhoea

As mentioned earlier, senna is a common herbal laxative used in detox teas. Although safe in moderation, continuous use or large quantities of use can cause severe diarrhoea which can lead to extreme dehydration. It may also cause an electrolyte imbalance, which may lead to abnormal heart rhythms, muscle weakness, confusion and seizures. 

It also affects your normal digestive process, causing you to become reliant on laxatives to have normal bowel movements. Dr Poh warns that laxative abuse can also lead to serious dysfunction of the bowel such as intestinal paralysis, cathartic colon, irritable bowel syndrome, paradoxical constipation and more. Laxatives can also cause problems with nutrition as the body processes food too quickly to absorb the nutrients.

Abdominal discomfort

Because of the high caffeine content and laxative nature of the tea, abdominal discomfort, cramps, bloating and gas are common side effects as they irritate the digestive system.

Self-care is more than long baths and candles 

“Not catching Covid” isn’t the only thing we should be worried about during this pandemic and it is of paramount importance that we manage other aspects of our health, making the term “self-care” more important than ever. 

Adopt some lifestyle changes

Remember to eat a healthy, balanced diet, get your daily dose of exercise and clock in at least 8 hours of sleep.

Don’t skip your follow-ups

If you have follow-up appointments with your doctor, attend them. There are troubling consequences for people who put off their routine checks during the COVID-19 pandemic and it is important not to skip these check-ups even if you’re nervous about venturing into a clinic. 

Putting your health on hold is a mistake

The pandemic has impacted the country’s healthcare capacity and led to long waiting times of about 6 months or longer. If you find yourself suffering from serious symptoms or suspect a condition, perhaps you could consider private healthcare instead. For many conditions, early diagnosis and treatment could mean a matter of life and death — just because an issue you have is not so serious now, doesn’t mean it may not become a serious condition later.

Is it worth it?


In our opinion, it’s very important to be mindful of what you consume and to remember that just because something is considered “all-natural” doesn’t mean it cannot harm your body, especially in large quantities.

Trust your body, because it has its own built-in detoxification system. That’s what our livers, kidneys, gastrointestinal tracts and skin are for — they work 24/7 to process and eliminate waste and toxins.

Although a round of teatoxing may make you feel lighter, that may just be water loss and your lean-to-fat ratio remains the same. Perhaps look into leading a healthier lifestyle that can help you in losing weight, instead. Support your gut health to improve your digestive processes. With healthy eating habits and ample exercise, you’ll reach your weight loss goals in no time.

References:

“Detox Tea: Side Effects, Purported Benefits, and How They Work.” Healthline, 9 January 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health/detox-tea-side-effects#do-they-work. Accessed 12 January 2022.

Ho, Kim. “Two in five Singaporeans unhappy with their weight.” YouGov, 12 June 2019, https://sg.yougov.com/en-sg/news/2019/06/12/two-five-singaporeans-unhappy-their-weight/. Accessed 12 January 2022.

Shapiro, Nina. “Teatoxing Is The Hottest Detox, And Toxic It Is.” Forbes, 2018, forbes.com/sites/ninashapiro/2018/11/29/teatoxing-is-the-hottest-detox-and-toxic-it-is/?sh=6136b74e13fd. Accessed 12 January 2022.

Weir, Brianna. “The Detox Tea Trend | Home & Garden Information Center.” HGIC@clemson.edu, 1 May 2019, https://hgic.clemson.edu/hot-topic/the-detox-tea-trend/. Accessed 12 January 2022.

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