What’s the tea with laxatives?

Fit tea, Skinny fit, Zero tea, Teami, Yogi Detox, Bootea, Lyfe Tea, Flat Tummy co. You’ve heard everyone from fitness influencers to the Kardashians promoting some sort of ‘Tea detox’ that claims to cause easy rapid weight loss. Simply drink a glass of their custom tea blend morning and night everyday for the duration of their program, and they will allegedly increase your energy and metabolic rate, clean and detoxify your body and the kilos will come right off. Sound too good to be true? These teas are considered herbal supplements so these claims don’t need to scientifically verified. 

Tea might be delicious, but it can’t do it all via A Girl with Tea on Flickr

So what’s in your mug?

Most of these blends contain only organic natural ingredients, but this doesn’t make them safe or even healthy. Cyanide comes from the cassava root which is natural too! There’s nothing sinister about most of the ingredients you might recognise: green tea, extracts of pomegranate, ginger, honey, rose-hip, peppermint. The usual fragrant and delicious flavours alone, will not cause you to lose weight. But apparently, Senna leaf will do the trick.

Move over chamomile, this is the true tea

Senna alexandrina is an ornamental plant native to lower Egypt, that contains active sennosides. Sennosides are a natural stimulant laxative like Dulcolax that you can get over the counter at a chemist. This means that they act on the wall of the last segment of the large intestine, the colon. Normally, the partially digested food and liquids reaches the colon, and channels, called aquaporins in the cells of the colon wall uptake some of the water. The cells transport the water to other parts of the body so you don’t get dehydrated while reducing the fluid content of your stools so they’re firm.

Senna Alexandrina in the flesh via Jkadavoor (Jee) on Flickr

LaxaTEAve: not my cup of tea

But when Senna is eaten, healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract break down the sennoside molecules into two smaller active metabolites, Rheinanthrone and Rhein. Rheinathrone interacts with cells on the colonic wall to cause a number of changes that results in a decreased number of aquaporins on the cells membranes. This limits the water reabsorption by these cells, resulting in a softened stool, that you might recognise as diarrhea. Rhein promotes other cells in the colon to release chloride ions, which causes more water to be given off through osmotic forces. The metabolites also irritate the colonic wall causing increased  peristalsis which is the waves of downward contraction along the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, making it easier to have bowel movements. 

Don’t find yourself in hot water, this tea might be lukewarm

Senna is traditionally used for its laxative effect, in the treatment of patients with constipation, and to empty the large intestine before a colonoscopy. Currently, there is insufficient medical evidence for Senna as a weight loss treatment, but the testimonies and reviews in these ‘teatox’ promotions say otherwise. While you’ll likely lose some weight in the beginning, this actually represents the excess water your body was holding to keep you hydrated, water weight. So, if you continue Senna consumption, it inevitably results in symptoms of dehydration, like headaches, fatigue and poor concentration. This effect is magnified by the significant loss of electrolytes, namely chloride ions. Basically no fat is being lost at all, and because Senna only acts in the last segment of the digestive tract, most calories are still being absorbed.

The scale hasn’t stopped working, it’s just not that easy via don on Flickr

Should I just exercise and eat a healthy diet?

The research shows that senna can cause cell death in the colon, called apoptosis, but can recover within 18 hours. However, if Senna is used chronically this effect can be associated with causing colon cancer, so medical professionals recommend that Senna is not continuously used for more than 2 weeks. After 2 weeks the colon may also develop dependence on Senna for regular function, making bowel movements problematic. Despite this these companies continue to promote detox programs, up to 4 months long, ignoring the obvious risk. 

So, hopefully this can inform your decision before purchasing a teatox on the advice of a celebrity, rather than a nutritionist. And that’s tea, Sis!


7 Responses to “What’s the tea with laxatives?”

  1. nsobrien says:

    Thankyou! I know, it’s frustrating that these influencers don’t recognise the danger to their often young audience, with waist training corsets, appetite-suppressing lollipops and the like!

  2. nsobrien says:

    No, not in most normal teas! It doesn’t add much to the flavour so it’s only really used as an additive to detox teas!

  3. Tate says:

    So is Senna found in normal teas, or only a specific type?

  4. Layal El Wazan says:

    Great article! You spilled the tea on all these teatox companies. I also enjoyed learning about how laxatives work.

    Unfortunately, we live in a time where influencers are so money-driven they don’t consider the repercussions of possibly advertising a dangerous product.

  5. nsobrien says:

    Thankyou, I did have a bit too much fun coming up with tea related puns!

  6. Sreya Lodh says:

    A great read! I always knew that these products had laxatives in them but wasn’t aware that they were using a natural laxative ingredient. Hopefully, there will be some legal changes soon with regards to advertising products like these.

  7. Lily Collins says:

    This is such an entertaining post. Loved the title and subheadings that kept jumping out and drawing me back in. The science was really clearly articulated as well. Well done!!