The Scoop on Popular Detox Teas

Two women having tea at table in cabin
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Sipping tea may help to nourish your liver (an organ that aids in the elimination of toxins from the body) and support your body in the cleansing process, say some natural health proponents. More recently, celebrities have been touting the benefits of detox teas, such as Flat Tummy Tea, for weight loss, quitting smoking, and other concerns. But you may be wondering whether they really work or are safe.

There's very limited research on the ingredients often found in detox teas and whether they can benefit an otherwise healthy person. There's also a lack of research on the herbal formulas or blends that are found in detox products including how they work, how much should be used, and who shouldn't take them.

What's more, if you check the label of some products, you may find ingredients that can have a diuretic or laxative effect, which can lead to the loss of water weight but not actual body fat. 

Here’s a look at five herbal ingredients commonly found in detox teas:

1) Milk Thistle

Used as a "liver tonic" for centuries, milk thistle is one of the most common herbs used for liver disease, according to results from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey. With seeds rich in an antioxidant known as silymarin, there is some evidence from laboratory studies that milk thistle can shield the liver from the toxic effects of certain substances (such as alcohol and acetaminophen), but there's a lack of clinical studies examining the effect of milk thistle used for general detoxification in healthy people.

2) Burdock

Burdock tea
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

A plant root that is sometimes eaten as food, burdock may help to protect liver cells from alcohol- and acetaminophen-related damage and "purify blood". Rich in inulin and sesquiterpene lactones, preliminary studies with animals suggest that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity of burdock may help to protect the liver.

3) Dandelion

Some research suggests that dandelion may have the ability to stimulate the flow of bile, a substance that helps transport toxins away from the liver to be excreted by the body. In addition, tests on animals indicate that the herb may guard against liver damage induced by environmental toxins. Dandelion is also said to act as a diuretic, increasing the output of urine.

Dandelion greens are eaten in salad, and the roasted root is sometimes used as a coffee substitute. 

4) Artichoke

Laboratory research shows that artichoke contains constituents such as cynarin, luteolin, and chlorogenic acid, antioxidant substances shown to increase the flow of bile. Often touted for its toxin-fighting effects, artichoke is also said to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

5) Senna

After overindulging, some people turn to senna to help cleanse their system and stimulate weight loss. Senna contains compounds called anthraquinones, which are powerful laxatives. Although a number of studies suggest that senna may help alleviate constipation, there's concern that excessive intake of senna may lead to diarrhea and serious health problems (including potassium depletion and electrolyte abnormalities, heart function disorders, and liver damage).

Possible Side Effects

While the word "tea" may lead you to believe that the beverage is harmless, each ingredient has potential side effects. For instance, green tea, yerba mate, and guarana contain caffeine, which may interfere with sleep and cause anxiety, rapid heart rate, nausea, tremors, restlessness, and dependence.

What's more, some ingredients may lead to gas, diarrhea, and acne, while others can slow blood-clotting and should not be used within two weeks of surgery or by people with bleeding disorders or those taking anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs (such as aspirin, NSAIDs, ibuprofen, or warfarin) or supplements (such as vitamin E, garlic, or gingko). Certain ingredients may lower blood glucose levels and should not be combined with diabetes medication.

Rhubarb (root and leaf), black tea, chicory, dandelion greens, and yerba mate are rich in oxalates. People with or at risk for kidney stones and those with certain conditions such as chronic kidney disease and gout should avoid an oxalate-rich diet. If oxalate-rich foods are consumed, calcium or magnesium supplements will prevent oxalates from absorption.

It's important to note that teas marketed for detox haven't been tested for safety and that the safety in pregnant women, breastfeeding or nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications hasn't been established. Any detoxification procedures, teas, herbs or supplements are contraindicated for pregnant and nursing women.

The Bottom Line

Despite the lack of research, some people may feel better because they eat better on the diet, drink more fluids, and exercise. If you're still considering trying a detox tea, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider to weigh the pros and cons and discuss whether it's right for you.

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