It’s almost impossible to scroll through social media these days without being confronted with an ad or sponsored post for detox tea. It seems as though everyone from reality TV stars to bona fide movie stars are hawking detox tea, with celebrities like the Kardashians, Nicki Minaj, and Hilary Duff making thousands of dollars for being photographed with detox tea in their hands. But what does the term “detox” actually mean? Does your body even need to detox? What exactly is in these detox teas, and do they ultimately do more harm than good? We’re ready to explore all of these questions and the impact detox teas can have on your physical and mental well-being. Curious about creating your own detox tea? It can be really empowering to make your own super-healthy detox tea at home, and we’ve got brewing tips for achieving the perfect cup.
What exactly is in detox tea?
A large part of most marketing campaigns for detox tea is a focus on achieving a flat belly quickly (without having to restrict calories). Although that might sound like an attractive promise—especially for someone looking to lose a few pounds so that they look great in a bathing suit or a sexy new dress—the reality of drinking detox teas is slightly less glamorous.
The most common ingredient in detox teas is senna, a plant that’s used in many detox teas and has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an over-the-counter laxative. Senna works by stimulating the lining of your intestines so that you’ll have a bowel movement. Senna is used therapeutically for constipation and for cleaning out the colon before a colonoscopy. Overuse of senna (ingesting it for longer than two weeks) can be detrimental to your health and can eventually lead to an electrolyte imbalance due to chronic diarrhea, high levels of calcium in the kidneys, finger clubbing, and bone and joint disease.
Japanese Star Anise
Not to be confused with the very common Chinese star anise, Japanese star anise is often found in detox teas and has been linked to vomiting, seizures, eye twitching, and overall jitteriness. The culprit for these health risks is sikimitoxin, a toxin that is found in Japanese star anise. The danger lies in the fact that toxic Japanese star anise is often used interchangeably with nontoxic Chinese star anise and that they are indistinguishable from each other once they have been ground up.
Guarana is a creeping plant found in the Amazon and is commonly used in detox teas for its effectiveness as an alternative to caffeine. When guarana is consumed in small doses, it actually has positive effects on cognition, as demonstrated by this study on guarana’s effect on psychological well-being. But another study concluded that guarana’s positive effects are diminished when it’s ingested at higher doses, which is a possibility if you’re regularly drinking a detox tea containing guarana. As with caffeine, high doses of guarana can lead to irritability, insomnia, and anxiety.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Some detox teas come in bottled form instead of the more common tea bags or loose tea, and these teas are more likely to be sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup is cheaper to manufacture compared to sweeteners such as honey or agave syrup and has been linked to increased body weight, body fat, and triglyceride levels in rats.
How effective are detox teas?
The effectiveness of detox teas marketed for weight loss is largely based on your own expectations of the tea. For short-term weight loss before unveiling your new bikini on vacation or fitting into a too-tight dress before a big event, detox tea can absolutely be helpful. It’s important to be aware that any weight loss you notice after a couple of days drinking detox tea will most likely be water weight, and your body will quickly regain it after you stop drinking the tea. When drinking detox tea, it’s crucial that you drink plenty of water, because many of the ingredients have laxative or diuretic effects. Pay attention to the amount of caffeine or other stimulants in the tea, as they may have adverse effects on your ability to sleep and on your anxiety and irritability levels.
Detox teas are not for long-term weight loss.
Although it would be wonderful to be able to drink a detox tea and lose weight for good, the reality is that this method is both unsustainable and unsafe for your body. In fact, the FDA and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have recently been taking legal action against some companies that manufactured detox products containing illegal ingredients and made false claims about the product’s ability to treat certain health problems. Ultimately, the best way to achieve long-term sustainable weight loss is through tried-and-true diet and exercise.
Detoxing and Cleanse Culture: What’s your motivation?
Detox teas are often advertised as a quick way to “fix” your body, a phenomenon that can be very triggering for individuals suffering from any type of eating disorder, orthorexia, or body dysmorphia disorder. Meghan O’Hara is a registered dietitian, health coach, and founder of True Nourishment, and she’s a firm believer in figuring out the “why” behind the need to detox before committing to any diet plan. As she explains, “if individuals carry a belief that their bodies constantly need to be ‘cleansed’/altered/fixed in any way, a cleanse could be used as a tool to promote an unhealthy relationship with our bodies.” O’Hara unpacks this claim by saying, “In my opinion, the intention behind the cleanse is the important factor. If an individual has an unhealthy relationship with his/her body and is ‘cleansing’ to continually try and lose weight or follow some idea of a ‘perfect’ diet, this ‘cleanse’ is not a health-promoting tool at all.”
Rethinking the Idea of a Detox
Instead of getting caught up in the idea of detoxing or cleansing your perceived flaws, a better approach is to rethink your detox so that it becomes about loving your body unconditionally and nourishing it with healthy foods and drink. The next time you get the urge to reach for the detox tea, try making your own version full of ingredients that you know will have a calming or healing effect on your body. You can buy many teas in loose or bagged form, which means you can come up with your own version of a healthy tea you can sip all day long.
Brewing the Perfect Homemade Detox Tea
Fresh is best.
Begin with fresh tea or raw tea ingredients (such as mint leaves or sliced ginger). If you have a box of tea that’s been sitting in your cupboard for ages, now is the time to toss it! Any tea that isn’t made from an actual tea leaf is technically called a tisane, although in North America we colloquially refer to many other hot beverages as tea. It’s a lot of fun to go to a store specializing in exotic teas, where you’ll find endless varieties you’ve never heard of and you’ll be able to buy teas in smaller quantities if you’re trying them for the first time.
Loose Versus Bagged Tea
There is an ongoing debate about loose versus bagged tea, with many people arguing loose teas are made with higher quality leaves, whereas others believe bagged tea is more cost effective. It all comes down to personal preference, although if you’re looking for more exotic teas you’ll probably have more luck buying them loose (loose tea is usually sold by weight). If you prefer to use loose tea, you’ll need a tea ball or teapot with a built-in infuser.
Using the Right Water Temperature for the Job
A common mistake when making tea at home is to use boiling water for every type of tea, when in reality, only black teas should be steeped in the hottest water. The ingredients in detox tea—homemade or otherwise—are relatively fragile and should ideally be brewed in water that’s just under the boiling point (around 180° to 190° Fahrenheit). Don’t forget about iced tea! Like cold brew coffee, your personalized detox tea can be made in cold water over a 24-hour period.
Teas for Health and Happiness
The following teas and herbs are a great starting point for creating your own detox tea. They can be used on their own or combined to make your own special detox tea. Add lemon, lime, and orange slices, a small drizzle of honey, or any other ingredients that make you feel good about yourself—then get sipping!
Peppermint tea can be made from bagged or loose tea or fresh peppermint leaves. It has been shown to relieve symptoms of dyspepsia, such as bloating, nausea, and excessive burping. Peppermint tea containing peppermint oil has shown potential as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, with early clinical studies demonstrating peppermint’s ability to relieve diarrhea, flatulence, and general stomach pain.
Green tea contains high levels of polyphenol, a powerful antioxidant known for its free radical–fighting properties (free radicals are responsible for causing damage to cells, protein, and DNA). Made from unfermented tea leaves, green tea is sold bagged, loose, or in powder form (as matcha green tea). Green tea has been the subject of many clinical studies and has shown promising results in lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol levels as well as potentially lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease in regular green tea drinkers. Green tea contains modest amounts of caffeine, which can vary greatly depending on the brand, but as a general rule, green tea contains less caffeine than black tea.
While people have been aware of ginger’s potent anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea properties for thousands of years, it’s only been recently that studies have provided scientific corroboration. Ginger tea can be found in bagged form or it can be made by steeping fresh, thinly sliced ginger in hot water for up to an hour (the longer it steeps, the spicier the ginger flavor will be).
With its faintly licorice-like flavor, fennel tea is usually a love-it-or-hate-it kind of beverage. The good news for those who love fennel tea is that studies have shown that drinking this particular type of tea helped subjects feel fuller longer after a meal. Fennel tea is most commonly found bagged or as a loose tea.
Rose Hip Tea
Made from the fruit of a rose, rose hip tea is pleasantly fruity with a mild astringency. Although rose hips are credited with the ability to treat all kinds of ailments, scientific research has focused on their anti-inflammatory and pain-management properties. Rose hip tea can be found in tea bags or as a loose tea.
With its mildly floral flavor and soothing taste, chamomile tea is the perfect prescription for insomnia and mild anxiety. Chamomile’s usefulness as a sleep aid is thought to be a result of apigenin, a flavonoid found in chamomile that binds it to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain. Chamomile is also associated with relief of inflammatory conditions, digestive issues, and eczema. Chamomile tea can be purchased as loose flowers or in bagged form.
To detox or not to detox?
If you’re committed to trying a detox tea, it’s a good idea to read as many product reviews as you can, because there will be some variation in quality depending on the company. And it’s best to refrain from basing your decision on the celebrity or spokesperson selling the detox tea. After all, you don’t know for sure if they even use the product. It’s always a great idea to talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian before embarking on a cleanse; they’ll be able to make recommendations based on your personal health history.