Herbal detoxes are one of the most controversial health remedies.
Many natural health advocates claim that they rid the body of toxins and promote weight loss. Meanwhile, medical experts are skeptical of their purported benefits and point to the potential harm they may cause.
This article tells you all you need to know about herbal detoxes, whether they work and any potential risks.
What are herbal detoxes?
Herbal detoxes are usually beverages or teas containing various herbs. Despite a lack of evidence, they’re used to promote weight loss and eliminate toxins from the body.
While the duration of these detoxes varies, most are used short-term, usually 3–14 days. Still, some detox drinks are recommended as daily “support” for your body on an ongoing basis.
Most herbal detox products contain natural ingredients that promise to promote weight loss and liver health, improve blood sugar levels, and remove toxins from the body.
The most popular ingredients include valerian root, licorice, cilantro, coriander, chlorella, milk thistle, dandelion root, skullcap root, rhubarb root, ginger, juniper berry, and burdock root.
While some limited animal research has suggested that these ingredients have chelating properties, meaning they’re able to bind to metals, there’s no evidence these ingredients detox your body.
Summary: Herbal detoxes have many health claims, such as ridding your body of toxins, promoting weight loss, and aiding blood sugar management. Usually, detoxes last 3–14 days, but they’re sometimes used on an ongoing basis.
Do detoxes work?
Although herbal detoxes are a popular health trend, most of their claims are overblown and have little scientific backing.
Most detox product labels feature long lists of natural ingredients. Yet, they fail to mention which toxins will be removed from the body or provide any proof of their effectiveness.
Your body is already equipped with a natural detoxification system. Your liver, kidneys, intestines, and skin work nonstop to remove waste from your body via feces, urine, and to a minor extent, sweat.
To date, no clinical studies have shown healthy individuals have a buildup of toxins in the body, nor that herbal detoxes increase your body’s ability to perform its regular duties.
Effects on weight loss
Although people claim to feel better after a detox, it’s likely due to other healthy lifestyle behaviors, such as limiting processed food and focusing on more nutrient-dense, whole foods.
Though you may experience some weight loss, you will likely regain the weight once you stop the detox. This is because most herbal detoxes contain diuretic ingredients that cause your body to expel water through urine and feces, leading to a rapid drop in water weight.
This type of weight cycling can lead to disordered eating thoughts and behaviors, as you may feel discouraged when you regain weight once the detox is over.
However, the prolonged use of herbal detoxes may lead to muscle and fat loss. Due to an increase in bowel movements, your body expels nutrients faster than it’s absorbing them. This is very unsafe and should be avoided.
Suggested read: Licorice root: Uses, benefits, side effects, dosage, and forms
Rather than relying on a detox to lose weight, opt for healthy lifestyle behaviors, such as following a balanced diet, exercising regularly, managing your stress levels, and getting enough sleep each night.
Many herbal detox products boast a variety of claims, such as that they regulate blood sugar levels, decrease bloating and acne, and increase energy levels.
However, no research supports these claims. If you have diabetes or another medical condition, it’s important to speak to your healthcare provider first.
Summary: There’s no evidence that herbal detoxes rid your body of toxins or promote weight loss. Your body already has a natural detoxification system to remove waste through your urine, feces, and sweat.
Potential risks of an herbal detox
Before you try an herbal detox, it’s important to know its potential risks.
Most herbal detoxes are not regulated and may contain ingredients that are either not listed on the package or present in significantly higher quantities than indicated. This can lead you to overdose on certain ingredients, which may result in serious side effects or even death.
Suggested read: Detox water: Health benefits and myths
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has taken action on many herbal detox products for their false claims, the content of harmful ingredients, and improper labeling.
Though many products claim to be natural, this does not mean they’re safe or should be taken in large amounts.
Herbal detoxes that contain diuretics can increase your risk of becoming dehydrated and experiencing low electrolyte levels, which can be life-threatening.
For example, a 67-year-old man reported nausea, trembling, and weakness after taking an herbal detox beverage containing uva ursi leaves, juniper berries, and many other ingredients for 5 days. He was treated at an intensive care unit for severely low electrolyte levels.
In 2017, a 60-year-old woman died from liver failure after taking a Yogi brand “detox” tea 3 times per day for 14 days. The tea contained 18 herbs that were believed to be responsible for the decline in her liver function.
In another case, a 50-year-old woman died from multiple organ failure after ingesting an herbal Epsom salt detox, resulting in manganese toxicity.
What’s more, regularly using herbal detoxes can lead to severe weight loss and nutrient deficiencies, as your body isn’t given enough time to absorb the calories, vitamins, and minerals in your diet.
While herbal detoxes are generally not recommended, certain at-risk populations should particularly avoid them, including:
- pregnant or breastfeeding women
- children and adolescents
- people with underlying conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis
- those with liver or kidney disease
- people with a history of disordered eating or an eating disorder
- those who are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition, such as older adults
Before trying an herbal detox, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider.
Many herbs interfere with medication clearance in the liver, potentially decreasing or increasing the effects of your medications and posing serious health risks.
Due to the large variety of ingredients used in herbal detoxes, you must talk to your healthcare provider before starting an herbal detox if you are taking any medications.
Summary: Herbal detoxes are not regulated and may contain unsafe ingredients that can lead to serious side effects and, in rare cases, even death. If you’re looking to try an herbal detox, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider first.
Herbal detoxes are popular due to their long lists of health claims, although they remain unproven.
Though it may be tempting to try an herbal detox, no evidence suggests that it will help clear toxins from your body or support long-term weight loss.
If you’re looking to improve your health, you’re better off adopting a healthy lifestyle, such as eating a nutritious diet and regularly exercising, rather than trying a potentially dangerous detox.