The Truth about Weight Loss Teas

March 04, 2015

The most common questions I’m asked when I talk about tea are always along the same theme, ‘do you sell weight loss tea?’ or, ‘have you heard of XYZ slimming tea, does it work?’ and I thought it time to address some of these questions in a serious way, because, in short, there’s no such thing as miracle weight loss tea, and such teas sold in this way can be damaging to your health.

Drinking tea as a slimming aid is not a new trend; Chinese slimming teas have been around for centuries. But weight loss teas are becoming increasingly glamourised and glorified as THE solution to your weight loss troubles. According to recent hype, it seems losing those excess pounds could be as easy as sitting back and drinking tea all day. It sounds like the perfect solution for a nation that already has a healthy relationship with the teapot – in fact we consume over 166 million cups of tea a day, so what could be more difficult than brewing yet another cup of tea to help you lose weight?

So what is weight loss tea? This is a tricky one to explain definitively, as all weight loss teas are made to different recipes, but generally speaking, they’re not teas at all. For a tea to be called a tea, it has to made with the Camelia Sinensis leaves, or in normal terms, tea from a tea bush. All black, green, white, oolong and pu-erh teas are made from this one plant, and only these teas can be truly called a tea; also any flavoured tea with a tea leaf base can be called a tea. However, your peppermint, chamomile, fruit ‘tea’, therefore is not a tea, but an infusion or a tisane. (If you want to know more about this, there’s another blog post to come on that)

So, back to weight loss ‘tea’. As I said, most weight loss teas are made to different recipes but most claim to be ‘all natural’ and based on the principles of traditional Chinese medicine. What this really means is that they’re made with a bunch of sometimes unidentifiable herbs and plants, the use of which is not regulated. As these herbs are natural ingredients they seem healthy and safe; most of them might be things you’ve already heard of, but they can all have nasty side effects – natural doesn’t equal safe!

Let’s have a look at some of the ingredients found in one such weight loss teas:

  • Senna leaves: The main ingredient in most weight loss teas, Senna can cause side effects including stomach discomfort, cramps, and diarrhoea. This is why you might appear to lose weight, it’ll make you need the loo!
  • Peppermint leaves: Used mainly for flavouring as it makes the overall taste of the tea more appetising and gives it an appealing smell. Peppermint can cause some side effects including heartburn, and allergic reactions including flushing, headache, and mouth sores.
  • Fenugreek seeds:Side effects include diarrhoea, stomach upset, bloating, gas, and a “maple syrup” odour in urine. Fenugreek can cause nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, and facial swelling. Not advised for pregnant women.
  • Liquorice root: again, used for flavouring, but side effects of liquorice use include tiredness, absence of a menstrual period in women, headache, water and sodium retention.
  • Burdock root: Often safely used as a foodstuff in Asia, burdock is generally considered safe in small doses.
  • Hawthorn leaves: Again, hawthorn is generally considered safe in small quanitites. Common known side effects included dizziness, tiredness headaches and nausea.
  • Valerian root: Valerian is often used as a sleep aid or relaxant. Doctors advise caution when driving or operating machinery when you are taking valerian.
  • Psyllium seeds: Gas and stomach cramping are quite common side effects, as psyllium husks or seeds are a rich source of fibre which will bulk your stools. It is often prescribed as a constipation reliever; over use will cause a laxative effect.

All natural ingredients, yet all have potentially uncomfortable or embarrassing side effects. I guess you might grin and bear it for fourteen days all in the name of weight loss, but none of the above ingredients will actually cause weight loss. Liquorice root might help with water retention which will make you feel slimmer, but that’s all it is, the loss of water weight. The main slimming feeling you’ll get will come from the senna leaves and valerian root, all of these weight loss teas are quite open about the fact that teas will cause your body to ‘detox’ – but what they mean is that you’ll spend a lot of time in the bathroom. This is NOT a healthy way to cleanse your body; yes you might feel lighter, less bloated, but as soon as you finish drinking your cycle of tea, the ‘weight’ will come back on, the bloating will return.

It turns out that the tea actually restricts the amount of nutrients your body consumes during the day and then gets rid of the remaining nutrients from your body through the use of the diuretic, which my body found especially intense as it gave me really bad cramps and really hurt my stomach. I knew straight away that if the tea was resulting in me having this pain then it couldn't be good for me. My body also felt drained and weak, especially the days after having the night tea. I do have to admit that some mornings the tea made me feel better if I'd had a big night as it was cleaning out the gunk (for lack of a better word) but majority of the time this wasn't the case.’ (Excerpt from an online reviewer of a weight loss 14 day teatox).

Aside from the possible side effects, weight loss teas are also under scrutiny from doctors, scientists and psychologists about their effect on impressionable young women.  Teatox companies are capitalising on youth’s reliance on social media, and bombarding them with manipulated images of before/after success stories, often photoshopped. The images are often so severe and shocking that Instagram took the decision to remove one prolific account, ''While Instagram is a place where people can share their lives with others through photographs, it does not condone the promotion or glorification of self-harm,'' the spokeswoman said, “XXX has directly violated company guidelines”.

So, having read all of that, why would you choose to drink weight loss tea? Why would you trust a product like these that is refuted by science, and not prescribed by doctors? If someone really had invented a product that melted fat fast and was safe, it would be endorsed by medicine, and available under proper controls. All you’re going to be doing is drinking a bucket load of ‘tea’ made from potentially unidentifiable ‘Chinese herbs’. Don’t believe the hype, don’t fall for the quick fix, don’t put things into your body that you don’t understand, and don’t know are safe.

COMING UP: Part 2: Tea as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.

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