DO WE NEED HELP TO DETOX?

The answer is: Not really.

“It’s commonly misunderstood that if you’ve been eating unhealthily or leading a hectic lifestyle, that your body needs external help to detoxify. But the human body is designed to get rid of toxins when you perspire, breathe, urinate or move your bowels,” says Dr Ben Ng, consultant endocrinologist at Arden Endocrinology Specialist Clinic.

When you do a detox diet, consciously or not, you’ll avoid unhealthy foods, adds Sarah Sinaram, clinical dietitian at Raffles Medical Centre. “You might attribute the benefits you notice to the detox, but it’s actually caused by healthy eating practices,” she says.

That’s not to say that teatoxes aren’t helpful. Drinking tea – once viewed as dehydrating because of its diuretic effect – keeps you hydrated, flushes out toxins and keeps your energy levels up, says Sarah.

“Herbal teas also contain high antioxidant levels from compounds like flavonoids and polyphenols, which potentially lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease,” says Jaclyn Reutens, clinical dietitian at Aptima Nutrition & Sports Consultants.

THE WEIGHT-LOSS EFFECT

A teatox often involves a colon-cleanse by using natural herbs like senna to increase bowel movements. But you might not be losing actual body fat, notes Dr Ng. “If you’re losing weight rapidly – 1 to 2kg within a week or two – it’s almost always water. Think of it this way: Half a kilogram of fat is 3,500 calories. You’d lose only 200-300 calories if you jog on a treadmill for 30 minutes. A reasonable expectation of weight loss is half a kilogram a week.”

Jaclyn warns that doing a regular colon-cleanse may cause your colon to become “lazy” so that when you stop teatoxing, you might find it difficult to defecate normally. “Frequent bowel movements could also eliminate good bacteria from your colon that actually protects you against bowel disease and other problems,” she adds.

DO IT WITH CARE

Visit your doctor and get a clean bill of health before going on a teatox, advises Dr Ng. “Changes to your diet may cause unexpected reactions. Monitor yourself and check with your doctor if you’re unsure of anything.”

Sebastian Liew, medical herbalist and doctor of naturopathy at Sebastian Liew Centre, agrees, saying: “The combinations used in teatoxes may not be suitable for everyone. If you’ve found that you’re allergic to certain ingredients but still want a cleanse, opt for mild concoctions like those with nettle and fennel tea.”

If you experience diarrhoea from your teatox, it’s a sign that you’re intolerant to some herbal laxatives, and teatoxing is not suitable for you, says Dr Ng.

The herbs’ diuretic or laxative effects could also lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, warns Jaclyn. “Electrolyte imbalance affects the heart and can cause muscle contractions which can be dangerous.”

Those with underlying gastrointestinal issues, like irritable bowel syndrome, shouldn’t do a teatox as it may aggravate symptoms, says Sarah.

Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also avoid teatoxing, as it may limit the absorption of essential nutrients like calcium or iron, explains Sarah.

KEEP THE WEIGHT OFF

There is no shortcut to weight loss, so don’t rely on quick-fix solutions, advises Sarah. “Even if you get the results you desire, once you stop your teatox and go back to unhealthy eating habits, you’re back to square one.”

And if you must, use teatoxes only for a short period while practicing a healthy lifestyle. Get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day or 20 minutes of high-intensity exercise thrice a week, says Dr Ng. 

He explains: “A weight loss journey can be emotionally draining, especially if you don’t see immediate results. So if you need a short-term motivational boost, use teatoxes as a supplement to help you along.”

Finally, make sure that you address other factors that could be contributing to your weight gain, says Sebastian. “By eliminating emotional stress, late nights and helping your mind to relax, you’re also assisting your body’s own detoxification functions.”

This article was originally published in Simply Her October 2014.