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Lose Weight by Drinking Tea

Feeling guilty about all the festive bingeing you’ve done? Think you need to purge your body of the toxins accumulated from your rich, fatty holiday diet… and maybe slim down too? Should you go on the teatox that everyone’s talking about? Medical doctors and nutrition experts advise against it – and here’s why.

What detox?

Let’s set the record straight on any form of a detox diet: It isn’t going to help you lose weight in a sound and sustainable way. You might shed a few kilos right after trying one, but that’s mostly from the waste and water you’ve expelled – not the body fat you’re dying to get rid of. Over time, detox diets – particularly those that restrict calorie intake – can also slow down your metabolism (the rate at which your body converts food into energy), making it harder for you to lose weight and keep it off. As for programmes that call for abstinence from food groups like meat and dairy products, there’s the risk of protein deficiency, and subsequently, loss of important muscle mass.

Is the teatox any different?

You’ve seen it advertised on the web and social media: Drink two cups of a specially formulated tea – once in the morning and again at night – over a period of up to 28 days to lose weight, detoxify and so on. The teatox is a fast-growing trend with online reviewers raving about results that can be seen in as little as seven days.

Compared to juice cleanses, the teatox seems like an easier plan to follow. No fasting – just eat as you normally would. No refrigeration needed – to prepare the beverage, just boil water and steep the tea bags. Plus, the herb and spice teas are all natural.

It all sounds perfect, except for one big catch: As these teas are classified as health supplements instead of medicine, they can be imported and sold without a licence from the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) of Singapore. What this means, according to the HSA, is that ‘the onus of responsibility for the safety and quality of health supplements rests with the dealers and sellers’.

 

So what’s really in the tea?

Senna leaves, psyllium husk fibre, green tea, guarana, nettle leaves, liquorice. “These natural ingredients may appear safe”, says Dr Wong Wei Mon, senior family physician and deputy medical director of Raffles Medical Group. “But they may not be that innocuous as they invariably contain compounds that have diuretic or laxative properties.” (Read: They make you pee and purge more.) 

“While there’s some evidence that drinking flavonoid-rich tea protects your heart, skin, brain, and bones, helps you manage stress and maintain weight, as well as fends off cancer and type 2 diabetes, there’s no published research to show teatox blends are safe or effective for weight loss or anything else,” says Elisa Zied, a US-based dietitian and author.

As with all dietary supplements, buyers also need to be aware that such teas could interact with or alter the absorption and effectiveness of other supplements or medications, adds Elisa.

Stimulants

Cayenne, ginger root, green tea and guarana are popularly believed to rev up calorie burn. Of these ingredients, green tea is perhaps the most widely studied for its efficacy in supporting weight loss. Even then, the evidence is only modest, says Dr Wong. “There’s also no evidence that green tea maintains weight loss. As for cayenne, ginger root and guarana, there’s inadequate or negative evidence.”  

Laxatives

Senna leaves and psyllium husk fibre are frequently used in natural remedies for constipation as they help stimulate bowel movement. (The latter is also used as an appetite suppressant in other OTC weight-loss products.) Doctors caution against using laxatives to lose weight. “They increase water loss in the gut, which results in an increased faecal output and dramatic weight loss,” says Dr Wong. You might even observe reduced bloating, but this is not without side effects.

Since a teatox blend tends to contain more than one laxative, you’d be running to the loo more often than usual – and that’s not a good thing.

“Passing motion more than twice a day is considered excessive,” says Dr Lee Yian Ping, cardiology consultant at Raffles Heart Centre in Raffles Hospital. “The loss of fluids may result in a potassium deficiency and subsequently, cardiac arrhythmia – when fast and irregular heartbeats can cause the heart to stop, leading to sudden cardiac death.”

Also, consuming too much senna can lead to abdominal pain and diarrhoea, says Dr Abel Soh, endocrinology consultant at Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre. “Other possible consequences include dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.” Again, this is bad news for your heart and other muscles.

Diuretics

Often found in medication for people with heart, liver and kidney disease, diuretics are substances that help remove unwanted fluids in the body by increasing urine production. Herbs like nettle leaves, liquorice and dandelion – common components of teatox blends – are natural diuretics.

Overconsumption of natural or chemical diuretics is dangerous. “Products containing nettle leaves have been reported to cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea, while products with liquorice can lead to loss of potassium, which may result in muscle weakness and abnormal heart rhythms,” says Dr Soh.

Yay or nay?

After reviewing ingredient lists of various teatox blends, experts have but one conclusion: You’re really better off skipping this new diet fad. No single ingredient has been scientifically proven to be capable of inducing weight loss and sustaining it. “Given the possible adverse effects of such products on the electrolytes, heart and endocrine system, it’s best to avoid them,” advises Dr Wong. And if you have pre-existing thyroid, cardiac, liver, and/or renal problems, teatoxes are a definite no-no.

Still think that going on the shortest (seven days) teatox plan is probably harmless? Note that doctors remain hesitant to give the green light: “There is no clear evidence on a safe frequency,” says Dr Lee. “Our liver and kidneys do the natural detoxification 24/7. Adopting a healthy diet daily is far more superior than a one-off detox programme,” says Dr Wong.

Elisa agrees: “If your goal is to lose weight, skip the teatox. Instead, consume a nutrient-rich, calorie-appropriate diet that includes plenty of produce, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy in their lowest fat and sugar forms. “Limit your intake of highly processed and refined foods. Drink water, sip on regular tea if you enjoy it, be more active, and get enough sleep,” advises Elisa. “Doing all of that is likely to be healthier and safer than taking a chance on an unproven and potentially unsafe concoction.”

Need more help with losing weight? http://thefinder.life/body-soul/healthy-living/banish-your-food-demons

By Estelle Low, Shape, February 2015

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