A cup of tea with lemon.

It’s called the “teatox”: drinking teas infused with diuretics, laxatives, and stimulants like caffeine—along with eating lightly and exercising—for up to 30 days or more to reduce bloat, boost energy, strengthen your immune system, and ultimately speed weight loss.

That last claim seems to be key, whether for a teatox or another kind of detox regimen. "In my experience working with clients, most people want to 'detox' to lose weight," says Ginger Hultin, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

More on Weight Loss Products

And consumers are interested. Here in the U.S., we spent more than $62 million on detox/cleansing, laxative, and weight-loss teas in retail outlets in the past year, according to Chicago-based SPINS, a market research firm that tracks data on natural and organic products.

That makes teatoxes a robust part of the overall wellness tea market of about $272 million for the same time period. And because these figures exclude online sales, including Amazon, the numbers are probably much higher.

But do these trendy teas—with names like BooTea, Flat Tummy Tea, Lyfe Tea, Organic Skinny Natural Tea, and Skinny Fit Tea, to name just a few—work as claimed? More important, is this a safe practice?

Research is limited, but here's what we know so far.

What's in That Tea?

Depending on the product, a detox tea may contain one or more of a wide variety of ingredients, such as burdock root, dandelion root, cinnamon, ginger, licorice, or milk thistle—often along with regular caffeinated tea.

But most have certain ingredients in common, which are touted to help with weight loss: stimulants like guarana, which some research suggests may contain up to four times the amount of caffeine in coffee, and laxatives like senna or senna leaf, approved as an over-the-counter medication by the Food and Drug Administration for constipation.

Checking the Teatox Claims

What can the ingredients in a teatox do to help you shed pounds? First, consider that regular tea—green, black, white, or oolong—has long been said to have some weight-loss benefits.

Like water or coffee, drinking any kind of fluid may help you feel temporarily fuller, so you may eat a little less. But "that strategy has been studied in weight-loss programs and really has not proven to be terribly useful," says David Seres, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center and a member of Consumer Reports' medical advisory board.

"There is evidence that replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with no-calorie beverages like tea helps reduce calorie intake and weight in human studies," Hultin adds. 

The caffeine in regular tea may have other short-term effects, such as helping to curb hunger and boost metabolism slightly, but these haven't been shown to lead to significant weight loss, Hultin says. (Studies on green tea, however, and its possible role in slowing age-related weight gain, are intriguing—though more research needs to be done.)

But the higher amounts of caffeine you may get in a teatox probably won't add to any possible weight loss benefit, Seres says. "The likelihood is that unless stimulants are taken in larger amounts—prescription levels—over a longer period of time—there’s not going to be much of an effect on weight," he says. "And in randomized, controlled studies, even these are not very effective."

When it comes to the laxatives and diuretics in many teatoxes—which speed up the elimination of stool and urine during digestion—they can help to temporarily lower the number on the scale.

But that lower number won't stay down, Seres says. "If you weigh yourself after you have diarrhea because of a laxative you’re going to weigh less," he notes. "But now you’re relatively dehydrated. As soon as you drink enough to be properly hydrated, your weight will be identical to what it was."

One issue of concern for those considering a teatox is that the ingredients in the brews may interact with each other in a negative way and with some common medications the user might be taking, Hultin says.

And overdoing some teatox ingredients may be problematic. Stimulants such as caffeine, according to the National Institutes of Health, can cause nausea, rapid heartbeat, and vomiting when ingested in large amounts. (See more here on caffeine and the amount that's generally considered safe.) 

Overuse of any laxative (or diuretic) may cause harm as well. Senna, for instance, has been linked to liver damage when consumed in high doses over long periods of time, according to the government's LiverTox website.  

“Chronic laxative use, in any form, and especially in combination with a diuretic, can lead to blood potassium deficits,” says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports’ chief medical adviser. “This can cause muscle cramps and weakness, as well as serious heart problems.” Even short-term, senna's side effects can include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and nausea.

In addition, detox teas are often regulated like dietary supplements—which means much more loosely than FDA-approved medications, which have to prove their safety and efficacy—so consumers can’t always rely on the label for correct information about what's in the tea. 

"If they happen to contain hidden ingredients not listed on the label, then they might also pose health risks,” says Pieter Cohen, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a noted supplements researcher. Many studies on dietary supplements, he says, have "found that what is on the label is often not the same as what is actually in the bottle." 

Duffy MacKay, N.D., senior vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition, an industry group that represents supplement manufacturers, said he couldn’t comment on the safety or efficacy of teatoxes without looking at the ingredients lists of individual products. 

However, he advised against overusing detox teas or other herbal products or dietary supplements that contain laxatives or diuretics. And when it comes to weight loss claims, he says, “Consumers have to be aware: If it’s too good to be true, you have to be cautious.” 

Should You Try a Teatox?

Still thinking of trying a detox tea? "On a short-term basis, it's unlikely to cause permanent harm, though there's possible dehydration and sometimes stomach upset," says Scott Gavura, R.Ph., a pharmacist at the Science-Based Medicine blog. "My bigger concern is that people are under the assumption they’re doing something that’s beneficial for their body, and it’s not." 

It's wisest to run the idea by your doctor or pharmacist first to make sure teatox ingredients don’t conflict with any medication—prescription or OTC—that you take. That’s especially important if you have a chronic condition and use medication regularly, says Gavura—because you may be more likely to become dehydrated or to experience an unwanted interaction. And if you have issues such as abdominal pain, rapid heart rate, dizziness, or unusual amounts of weight loss, stop taking the tea and let your doctor know.

Most important, say experts: Don't rely on a teatox as a way to lose weight and keep pounds off. "If weight loss is the goal, there are better strategies for long-term success than doing a teatox," Hultin says. These include reducing your calorie intake if it’s too high, paying attention to proper portion size, focusing on fiber (including plenty of produce—here, easy ways to get more) and lean protein, keeping a food diary, and ramping up your physical activity. (Get more advice on weight loss here.)

And if you enjoy a cup or two of traditional tea a day, go for it, our experts say. It's a reasonable part of a healthy diet and may have some small weight-loss benefits.

As Hultin says, "anyone who enjoys drinking regular tea without adding excess sugar can likely include it in their regular diet without issue." If you're avoiding caffeine, simply opt for decaf tea.