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Could detox teas harm your health?

Detox teas, endorsed by celebrities and promoted on Instagram, have become a popular method of trying to lose weight, but how good are they for your health? Former hospital doctor Dr Lauretta Ihonor explains 

There’s nothing more convincing to any woman desperate to get in shape and look her best than a glowing celebrity diet endorsement.

Nothing squashes those ‘does this really work?’ doubts quicker than a rich, successful celebrity who looks stunning and insists that this product is the real deal.

And it’s this irresistible marketing ploy that has catapulted the teatox diet trend that’s taking Instagram by storm, straight into the limelight.

there’s just one problem: there’s absolutely no scientific evidence anywhere to support claims that teatoxes assist fat loss, cleansing or detoxification

But, unlike most other too-good-to-be-true diet and weight loss trends, this one – endorsed by social media heavyweights like reality TV star Kylie Jenner, rapper Nicki Minaj and actress Lea Michele – seems to have a dark side to it.

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Lea Michele, Kylie Jenner and Nicki Minaj have all endorsed the teatox trend

Teatoxes are detox teas that claim to cleanse the body and cause weight loss. While their exact makeup varies somewhat from brand to brand, a notable proportion of teatox manufacturers use the laxative senna in their products.

The rationale?

Claims made by popular brands range from ‘purifying and detoxifying the body’ to ‘breaking down fatty deposits in the gastrointestinal tract’.

There’s just one problem: there’s absolutely no scientific evidence anywhere to support these claims or others that teatoxes and the laxatives they contain assist fat loss, cleansing or detoxification.

In fact, senna works by stimulating your colon to contract more than normal, forcing out essential water and electrolytes along with faecal matter. While this loss of bulk can make you feel and look slimmer short term, it has no impact on fat loss, because calories from food are absorbed in your small intestine long before it gets to the colon.

Senna works by stimulating your colon to contract more than normal, forcing out essential water and electrolytes along with faecal matter

There’s actually only one medically approved use of senna and that’s for short-term treatment of constipation. And as senna manufacturers and prescribing resources like explain, ‘short term’ means 1 week. After that time, senna should only be taken under supervision by a medical professional.

So why do these teatoxes go against medical convention by advising customers to take them for 28 days? Some companies even advocate repetition of these month-long teatoxes over and over again, with just a 1 week break.

It’s this misleading impression that it’s safe and effective to take senna regularly over 28 days that has prompted me to launch this petition to remove laxatives from teatoxes.

Because while senna is usually safe when used for a few days to treat constipation, research and clinical findings show that longer-term use can cause serious damage to the body. 

The US National Library of Medicine warns: “Longer use can cause the bowels to stop functioning normally and might cause dependence on laxatives… 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.”

Teatoxing ‘normalises the use of laxatives as a behavioural choice rather than taking them for a medical need’

These risks, however, are not communicated by teatox makers. Instead, they opt for phrases like ‘all natural’ and ‘get healthy, fit and sexy’ on their marketing materials. This downplaying of the side effects of teatoxing is something that Beat, the UK’s Eating Disorder Charity, has warned “normalises the use of laxatives as a behavioural choice rather than taking them for a medical need.”

But that’s the danger of the diet industry.

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Dr Laurette Ihonor has created a petition to make teatoxes safe

Companies selling dietary supplements fall down a regulatory black hole. Teatoxes, diet pills and other weight loss aids do not count as medicines or foods, so manufacturers do not need to prove the claims they make for their products before putting them on the market.

So what’s the solution?

Common sense screams, STAY AWAY FROM ALL TOO-GOOD-TO-BE-TRUE DIET PILLS AND POTIONS: just exercise more, eat a nutritious diet that’s low in junk food and be patient.

But that’s easier said than done, especially when desperation to get in shape for a special event sets in, good old fashioned diet and exercise isn’t working as quickly as desired and / or your favourite celebrity keeps singing the praises of a magical slimming drink.

That’s why I’ve launched this petition to make these teatox drinks safe by removing the laxatives that can seriously harm the body. While the current lack of regulation prevents you from knowing if any diet solution sold in your local health food store will actually work, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be confident that whatever you do buy won’t send you to hospital.

For more information on the campaign to remove laxatives from detox teas, click here.

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Dr Lauretta Ihonor is a London-based doctor, health journalist and healthy eating advocate. She can be found separating legitimate health and nutrition facts from misleading, hyped-up fads over at

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