Detox teas claim they can help do everything from rid your body of toxins, boost your energy levels, make you look better, and help you lose weight. If all that sounds like a lot to expect from a simple tea, that’s because it usually is. That does not mean that detox teas don’t have any benefits. But are they really worth all of the hype?

The Truth About Toxins

A lot of products blame toxins for everything from aging skin, to weight gain, to poor digestion, to irritability. The trouble is, nobody can seem to define exactly what these toxins are or which ones are responsible for causing the symptoms detox teas claim to help alleviate. Your body does come in contact with a lot of potentially toxic material, but this is easily handled by the filtering and excretory organs in healthy people. If someone has a medical condition that prevents their colon, liver, or kidneys from doing their jobs properly, they need to consult with their doctor, not rely on a detoxifying tea.

Detox Teas and Weight Loss

Since your body uses its kidneys and colon to do the heavy lifting when it comes to waste removal, most detox teas contain ingredients that stimulate these organs. These can include diuretic herbs like dandelion and senna. Senna is what’s called a “stimulant laxative,” meaning that it triggers increased activity in the large intestine. The combination of laxatives and diuretics can create the illusion of weight loss by causing the temporary loss of water weight. Some detox teas also contain caffeine to help trigger weight loss by briefly increasing metabolism, but, without making lifestyle changes to maintain it, this weight will come back once the tea is discontinued.

The Skinny on Side Effects

If you’re wondering if those diuretics, laxatives, and caffeine-containing ingredients can potentially have unwanted side effects, the answer is yes. Though herbal diuretics are considered safe to use, they can still cause dehydration if you don’t maintain an adequate intake of water. Laxative herbs, particularly stimulant laxatives like senna, can cause bloating, cramping, and diarrhea. Caffeine can cause nervousness, restlessness, and agitation, particularly in people who are sensitive to it. Even if herbs don’t usually cause you any problems, they can still interact with medication and may be contraindicated if you have certain health problems. Licorice root, for example, should not be used by those with high blood pressure unless it has had the glycyrrhizin removed.

Detox Teas and the FDA

The FDA does not approve supplements or detox teas. That doesn’t mean that these products don’t work, just that they have not gone through the same kind of safety and effectiveness screening that medical products have. Therefore, they might contain potentially harmful ingredients, or they might not. They might do the things they claim to on the package, or they might not — nobody has rigorously tested them. As a result, there are no definitive answers on how well they work (or if they work at all), appropriate dosages, or how often they can safely be used.

The Benefits of Detox Teas

All of this isn’t to say that using a detox tea can’t have any benefits. Some ingredients, like dandelion root or milk thistle, may help the liver. Others, like ginger or peppermint, can be good for digestion. Green tea is a popular base for detox teas, and is high in antioxidants. All of these ingredients have their own set of benefits, and many of them are used regularly without ill effects. Having a cup of herbal tea is a relaxing daily ritual that can certainly be helpful, especially for people who don’t have a lot of time for self-care; even if it doesn’t necessarily help you shed toxins and lose weight.

For most people, eating enough fiber, drinking enough water, and avoiding recreational drugs and alcohol are enough for their bodies to detox just fine on their own. If you do choose to use a detox tea, thoroughly research the ingredients (including potential interactions) and ask your doctor or dietitian before you start. Above all, remember — if a tea is making claims that sound too good to be true, they probably are.