No lax-ing matter

Put down that “skinny tea” and take a seat. I am about to reveal to you the greatest detoxifying agents you will ever use. In fact, you have been using these for a while without acknowledging their benefits: your kidneys, liver, lungs and skin. Yes, your own organs can effectively remove toxins from your entire body — no laxatives, fasting, or juice cleanses needed.

Laxatives like Senna, the so-called “anti-bloat” agent in diet teas, are usually used to treat constipation in elderly people or to clear the bowel before surgery. Chemicals called sennosides irritate the lining of the intestine, causing the laxative effect (read: you poop…a lot). Because Senna can be obtained without a prescription, diet tea companies do not need to regulate the dosage in their products. Recommended length for a “tea-tox program” can be anywhere from fourteen days to an entire summer — there’s nothing like running to the bathroom every ten minutes to help you enjoy that summer sun!

By contrast, doctors warn against using Senna products for more than two weeks, as they can cause electrolyte imbalances, muscle weakness, bone loss, and organ damage. These are symptoms commonly seen in people with bulimia, an eating disorder in which a person purges food by means of induced vomiting or by, you guessed it, laxative abuse. Yikes.

Many people use laxatives to lose weight, decrease bloating and remove toxins from their body, which the liver and kidneys do naturally during digestion. What laxative abusers actually end up losing are the water, oil, and electrolytes that their bodies need to maintain homeostasis, along with beneficial gut bacteria. Laxatives can also decrease absorption of medications, such as oral contraception. A string of unplanned pregnancies has been traced to use of diet teas, forcing tea companies to put a warning on their website. These dangerous side effects have led some doctors to petition diet tea companies to remove Senna from their products.

Most detox programs involve some degree of fasting or food restriction. Fasting can be quite harmful, especially when combined with overuse of laxatives. The average length of a water fast can range from one to three days, though people have fasted for studies under medical supervision for up to two weeks. Fasting, even intermittently, prompts your body to initiate a starvation response. This makes you more likely to binge after a period of restriction, which can be an impossible cycle to break.

Consuming only fruit juice during a cleanse does little to mitigate these effects, since the juice contains mainly simple carbohydrates without the proteins and fats necessary for lasting energy. As you might expect, depriving your body of vital nutrients can lead to vitamin deficiencies, muscle atrophy and low blood sugar. If you restrict food intake for long enough, you can end up with a weakened immune system and increased inflammation in the body. Contrary to the promises of increased energy, people who fast experience fatigue and difficulty regulating their emotions, a feeling often described as “hanger.”

Along with the physical dangers of these detox programs, there are profound psychological impacts as well. The very nature of these products and programs implies that (primarily) women can become more beautiful and worthy of attention by shrinking their bodies. They suggest that it is better to deprive your body of the energy it needs to function than to live a full life. Above all, they encourage an unhealthy obsession with food. These pervasive mentalities contribute to low self-esteem and fuel developing eating disorders. Despite mounting evidence that detox products do more harm than good, celebrity endorsements continue to gather impressionable consumers. The next time you see a Kardashian beaming at you from behind a packet of detox tea, remember that she’s human too…and everybody poops.