Detox Teas - are they truly transformative?
As a nutritional advisor you will be surprised at how often you are asked about detox and detox teas.
It is easy to see why these diet plans get so much attention, a simple search on Twitter or Instagram yields literally thousands of photos, adverts and celebrity endorsements, with beautiful bodies and beautiful locations promising ‘all this’ if you just drink tea. From the success stories it would appear clear cut but weirdly if you search the medical search engine Pubmed, which lists all published peer reviewed studies or even Research Gate, the popular social media site for working scientists, the chatter is far less – no research articles have been published this year and there are no projects currently listed.
So why the difference? Are all the nutrition and weight-loss scientists missing a trick?
There are a huge variety of ‘detox’ teas on the market and they contain a massive collection of different ingredients. Bootea, one of the most popular brands claiming “thousands of sales every day” sells a detox package including two teas - a ‘Daytime Tea’ and a ‘Bedtime Cleanse’. The day tea contains Chinese Oolong tea, Maté leaves, Ginger root, Fennel seeds, Lemongrass, Dandelion leaf, Ginseng root, Gotu Kola leaves, Nettle leaves and caffeine. Oolong tea when drunk in moderation has been linked with a long list of health benefits (1) and caffeine is very well studied and conclusively linked to improved performance (2). Other ‘daytime’ ingredients have reasonable health claims and one or two are even listed on the ‘Worlds healthiest foods’. In particular Yerba mate and ginseng have been widely studied and linked to improved energy and cognition but the research is not conclusive and they are not considered to be ergogenic by any sporting agency (3). The ‘Bedtime Cleanse’ is made from Senna leaves, Peppermint leaves, Fenugreek seeds, Liquorice root, Burdock root, Hawthorn leaves, Valerian root and Psyllium seeds. Again these herbs all contain a multiple bioactive ingredients (3) but there is little conclusive research and certainly none that shows that there is any efficacy in the doses that would be found in a tea, indeed many of the active ingredients might have greater bioavailability as a tincture. The one exception is the inclusion of Senna leaves a staple ingredient of almost all detox teas. Senna is a herb containing Phytonutrient sennosides which irritate the bowl lining and work as laxatives. Senna is known to have efficacy even in small doses. Senna is the active ingredient in many of the detox brands and causes the stomach discomfort, cramps, and diarrhea that are listed as possible side-effects (4).
Despite this lack of conclusive evidence of effective health benefits, my main complaint with detox teas is not so much in the health claims but the use of the word ‘detox’. Detoxification is the medical term for the treatment of dangerous levels of ingested drugs, alcohol or poisons, or for chemical contamination and its use by nutritional practitioners is misleading and wrong. The marketing materials and websites for detox kits typically describe an array of symptoms and diseases linked to toxin buildup, most of which are general enough to apply to anyone, such as weight gain, bloating, headaches, fatigue and insomnia, as well as frequent mention of links to cancer, memory loss and Alzheimer’s. However there is a complete lack of funded research and no mention of the gold standard peer reviewed double blind placebo trials that would be needed to confirm efficacy. What toxins are involved and how they cause the symptoms is never actually explained. In fact there is no credible evidence to demonstrate that detox teas with their combined ingredients do anything at all.
I do not believe there is any evidence of such a thing as toxin build up or any need to detox but this aside, there is also a question of cost, at an average of £8 a week, you can get a lot of very good quality herbal tea for the same price or have an extensive herb garden and this would undoubtedly be far better for you.
By Tilly Spurr.
1. Chen and Lin 2015 Tea and Human Health: biomedical functions of tea active components and current issues. J Zhejiang Univ Sci B 16(2): 87-102.
2. Burke et al 2013 Caffeine for Sports Performance Human Kinetics Isbn 9380736095112
3. Panickar 2013 - Beneficial effects of herbs spices and medicinal plants on the metabolic syndrome, brain and cognitive function. Cent Nerv Syst Agents Med Chem 13(1) 13-29
4. Good review http://www.livestrong.com/article/121254-dangers-senna-tea/