When you have a bad bout of bloating and want to, ahem, get things moving, reaching for a detox tea is a pretty common solution. Even Lena Dunham has been known to sip on a hot cup of Smooth Move from time to time. But while they’re meant to be used as a digestive aid, many people see the teas as a weight loss tool. So what exactly is the deal with laxative teas anyway? Is there a right or wrong way to use them?
Here, two nutritionists get into the nitty gritty of detox teas, including whether they’re a good idea to use.
Scroll down to find out the truth about laxative teas.
What’s in detox teas
“The main ingredient in most detox teas—like Smooth Move—is senna leaf, which has been used as a medicinal herb for hundreds if not thousands of years,” says Stella Metsovas, CN, a gut health specialist and clinical nutritionist. “Some studies show great efficacy in using it to treat mild constipation.”
Another herb that’s common in detox teas is cascara sagrada, which works similarly to senna, according to holistic nutritionist Carley Mendes, an expert at The Tot. “They can increase transit time of the food you eat, which in turn reduces the amount of nutrients you’re able to absorb,” she explains.
But she adds that they can also go too far in the other direction, causing stomach cramps and diarrhea. If you’ve never tried a tea with either ingredient before, the key is to ease your way into it, trying just a small amount and not steeping the tea more than a couple minutes. Like any other tea, the more leaves you add and the longer you steep it, the stronger it will be.
It’s not meant to be sipped on the reg
According to both experts, detox teas should only be used for the occasional stomachache—and never for weight loss (more on that later). “If you use it for a longer period of time, your bowels can develop a dependence on laxatives for normal function,” Mendes says. (A representative from Yogi Teas agrees, saying they recommend no more than four cups of any of their digestive teas to be sipped in 24 hours, or longer than 10 days of use.)
Metsovas says her main issue with detox teas is that they can discourage people from getting to the root of their digestive probs. “You shouldn’t rely on these teas as a solution,” she says. “For example, people who are more prone to constipation could have an issue with the underproduction of hydrochloric acid, a necessary stomach acid that helps digest proteins.”
The takeaway here: It’s totally fine to use a laxative tea once in a while. But if you find yourself digging it out of your pantry on a regular basis, it could be stopping you from finding a long-term solution to your gut issues.
Detox teas aren’t intended for weight loss
As for using laxative teas for that other reason—both experts say it’s definitely not a good idea. “It only offers a temporary weight loss due to a short-term reduction in water retention,” Mendes says. “Lifelong weight loss is only achieved through a healthy gut,” adds Metsovas. “There are no shortcuts or magic pills.”
Okay, using a laxative tea for weight loss or regular use is a no-go. But if you’re looking to stock one for when your digestive system just needs a little extra help, Metsovas offers two pieces of advice: Go with a reputable company and pick one that does double duty by supporting your adrenals, too, by looking for ingredients like adaptogenic mushrooms. (Her go-to is Rishi Tea’s White Ginseng Detox Tea.) Of course, you can also make your own brew. Ginger and garlic (yes, garlic) is a power combo for soothing an angry gut, and Mestovas says she likes to make a big pitcher of mint and lemon water to sip on throughout the day.
When it comes to laxative teas, there’s a time and place to use ’em. And as long as you aren’t relying on them on a regular basis, you should be in the clear. Hey, even kombucha has its caveats when it comes to gut health.