With a num­ber of celebri­ties back­ing them and a promi­nent sight on our In­sta­gram time­lines, detox teas seem to be pop­u­lar. Are th­ese teas the real deal or a scam? Siya Ma­homba ex­plores.

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Are detox teas the real deal or a scam?

You have most likely seen some­one on so­cial me­dia hap­pily rav­ing about their flat tummy, cour­tesy of a herbal detox tea. This mostly hap­pens on In­sta­gram, and the post usu­ally be­longs to a celebrity or so­cial me­dia in­flu­encer. Though most of th­ese pro­mo­tional posts don’t dub the detox tea as the agent of weight loss, they do claim that it re­lieves bloat­ing and cleanses your sys­tem, re­sult­ing in a tiny waist­line.


Detox teas are not a new sen­sa­tion.

For ex­am­ple, pop­u­lar Black For­est herbal tea has been around for a while. In re­cent years, th­ese teas have been brought to the main­stream, and made pop­u­lar through strate­gic mar­ket­ing and well-thought-out mes­sag­ing. So­cial me­dia is of­ten used as the main plat­form to pro­mote them. The Kar­dashi­ans, Cardi B and Khanyi

Mbau have all en­dorsed var­i­ous brands of teas on their In­sta­gram pages. What their posts have in com­mon are the clev­erly con­structed cap­tions that do not re­fer to the teas as slim­ming aids, but as “cleansers” or “re­ju­ve­na­tors.” The prom­ise of weight loss of­ten lies in the name of the prod­uct. Flat Tummy Co, Slen­der­tox Tea and Fit Tea are some of the most pop­u­lar ones cur­rently. Pub­lic re­la­tions and com­mu­ni­ca­tions strate­gist Shaun Maqe­tuka says this form of sell­ing and mar­ket­ing is noth­ing short of ge­nius. “Most of us will do any­thing to lose weight ex­cept eat­ing healthy and ex­er­cis­ing. Also, as a re­sult of spend­ing a lot of time on so­cial me­dia, we end up adopt­ing habits and be­hav­iours that are in­flu­enced by on­line trends. Such trends in­clude the lat­est ob­ses­sion with clean eat­ing and cleans­ing the body. What bet­ter way than us­ing some­thing nat­u­ral and com­fort­ing as tea to cap­i­talise on those be­hav­iours?” he says.


Sip­ping your way to a slim body sounds eas­ier than sweat­ing on a tread­mill. Af­ter all, celebri­ties who drink detox teas do boast killer abs and an hour­glass fig­ure. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to Cape Town nu­tri­tion­ist José Fran­sisco, there is a lot that you should know be­fore turn­ing your ket­tle on. “Reme­dies or prod­ucts that prom­ise fast weight loss with­out an ex­er­cise rou­tine or diet are of­ten too good to be true. Tak­ing short­cuts to los­ing weight like con­sum­ing the so-called mir­a­cle teas is not only un­sus­tain­able, but it also pose se­ri­ous dan­gers to your health,” he says. Ear­lier this year Sazikazi Nd­abeni (27), a cus­tomer ser­vice agent from Queen­stown, was briefly hos­pi­tialised for de­hy­dra­tion which she later dis­cov­ered was linked to her re­li­gious use of detox tea. Sazikazi started drink­ing the tea in 2017 af­ter a friend rec­om­mended it. “Over the years I have made countless ef­forts to stay in shape, but failed. When a friend told me about this tea that ev­ery­one was talk­ing about on­line, I knew I had to try it. I loved how it caused reg­u­lar bowel move­ment, and that en­cour­aged me. I drank it for months even though the direc­tions for use spec­i­fied that the tea must not be con­sumed for more than 28 days at a time. I lost a bit of weight, but that came with a stint in hospi­tal. I think I should have been more re­spon­si­ble and fol­lowed the rules,” she says. Health and weight, ac­cord­ing to José, is dif­fer­ent for each per­son. He says what works for oth­ers might not work for you. “Just be­cause you see a prod­uct on a shelf or celebrity’s so­cial me­dia page, doesn’t mean it is safe,” he says.


José points out that some detox tea in­gre­di­ents usu­ally in­clude herbs that are nat­u­ral lax­a­tives. “If you take a closer look at the list of in­gre­di­ents, you will most likely see rhubarb root, aloe, buck­thorn, senna or psyl­lium. Th­ese con­tain sub­stances that in­crease the amount of wa­ter and salt ex­tracted from your body as urine,” he ex­plains. Lax­a­tives, whether nat­u­ral or syn­thetic, are com­monly used in mod­er­a­tion

to treat con­sti­pa­tion. “Lax­a­tives may help you lose weight, but that is just a tem­po­rary re­sult,” he says. Pro­longed con­sump­tion can re­sult in de­hy­dra­tion and or­gan dam­age. This is be­cause some of the sub­stances are harsh and cause con­trac­tions. Ad­di­tion­ally, they have un­pleas­ant side ef­fects such as bloat­ing and di­ar­rhoea. It is also easy to be de­pen­dent on them when used too of­ten.


Some detox teas, as seen on pro­mo­tional In­sta­gram posts, also prom­ise to boost your me­tab­o­lism and re­duce food crav­ings. But, what your favourite In­sta­gram star may not be telling you is that the tea may also con­tain ap­petite sup­press­ing sub­stances. Ac­cord­ing to Dr Khange­lani Gaju, a med­i­cal train­ing spe­cial­ist at a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany in Jo­han­nes­burg, ap­petite sup­pres­sants work on your body’s cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem, and trick the body into be­liev­ing that you are not hun­gry. “They mod­ify the chem­i­cal and hor­monal sys­tems that are meant to make you feel hunger and be­ing full. Then they re­duce hunger pains by in­creas­ing the heart rate and blood pres­sure. This causes re­duced ap­petite and a high me­tab­o­lism,” he ex­plains. Ap­petite sup­pres­sants are rec­om­mended as a last re­sort to treat obe­sity on pa­tients who have failed to lose weight through diet and ex­er­cise. Dr Khange­lani stresses that th­ese should only be used short term un­der the su­per­vi­sion of a doc­tor as mis­use can lead to harsh con­se­quences. “Ap­petite sup­pres­sants tend to lose ef­fect when used for longer pe­ri­ods, and can have un­pleas­ant side ef­fects such as light-head­ed­ness, ex­ces­sive sweat­ing, in­som­nia, ex­treme fa­tigue, high blood pres­sure and psy­cho­log­i­cal is­sues such as low self-es­teem,” says Dr Khange­lani.


Ac­cord­ing to José, there are safer and nat­u­ral op­tions for sup­press­ing your ap­petite. Cer­tain food­stuffs con­tain nu­tri­ents that are ben­e­fi­cial for metabolic func­tions and en­ergy ex­pen­di­ture. They help you feel full for longer, thus avoid­ing overeat­ing, and as a re­sult you can po­ten­tially lose weight with­out risk­ing your health. Fat-burn­ing and high-fi­bre foods such as ap­ple cider vine­gar and chia seeds com­bined with some nu­tri­ents found in meat and dairy, as well as chromium in broc­coli and green beans help keep crav­ings and hunger at bay. Pro­bi­otics and anti-age­ing bev­er­ages such as green tea are ef­fec­tive nat­u­ral ap­petite sup­pres­sants.


José says detox teas and ap­petite sup­pres­sants won’t help you lose weight on their own. “To achieve and main­tain sig­nif­i­cant weight loss, pre­scribed diet drugs should be used along­side a bal­anced healthy diet and in­creased phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity.” The safest, health­i­est and most ef­fec­tive way to lose weight is to eat fresh vegeta­bles, drink enough wa­ter and ex­er­cise reg­u­larly. He says our bod­ies re­quire a cer­tain level of calo­rie in­take in or­der to func­tion ef­fi­ciently. The rec­om­mended in­take for adults is 2 000 calo­ries per day for women and 2 500 calo­ries for men. “So, when you con­sis­tently overeat, your body stores the ex­cess calo­ries and that’s how you be­come over­weight,” he ex­plains. To avoid weight gain, eat fewer calo­ries than what your body burns. Ex­er­cis­ing helps to burn calo­ries faster. José fur­ther ad­vises that you eat more pro­tein, get enough sleep and eat slowly.


As­so­ci­a­tion for Di­etet­ics in South Africa Email or visit for a reg­is­tered di­eti­cian. Ther­a­pists On­line

If you are ad­dicted to ap­petite sup­pres­sants, visit ther­a­pist­son­ to lo­cate a treat­ment fa­cil­ity near you.

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