Why laxative teas don’t work

photodune-221394-weight-loss-sA girlfriend turned to me the other day and told me of her incredible hangover. She said it was like nothing she had ever experienced before and she is a seasoned campaigner (if you get my drift). She couldn’t believe the world of pain she was in and she couldn’t work out why, she kept telling me she had only had 2 glasses of wine. She started picking my brain and we began discussing any changes she had made to her daily routine. After some discussion, she asked whether or not consuming a popular “weight loss tea” had anything to do with it? Cha-ching! Whilst sitting at the café, we did some research (don’t you just love a smart phone?) and found that what she was in fact consuming was a “laxative” tea.  She looked at me completely confused and a little devastated. “But it says 100% natural?”, so I explained.

A good “flush-out” does not equate to weight loss

I am not going to tell you that you won’t lose weight with a laxative tea, but I will tell you that this weight loss is not related to the loss of excess fat. Instead, that drop in kilograms is related to the loss of water, which as many of you know is vital for good health.

How do laxatives work?

Laxatives encourage the bowel to pull water from your body and other vital organs, using this water to “swell” or “inflate” the stool sitting in the intestine. This irritates the bowel and hence, the body forces the process of purging or often ‘violent’ elimination.

Unfortunately, the water pulled from your body used to create this effect, drains out with the stool and over time, this repeated process can severely deplete your body of fluids leading to severe dehydration. A number of other side effects include:

  • The diarrhea caused by these teas can also lead to mal-absorption and loss of some vital nutrients such as magnesium, calcium and sodium. This can lead to an electrolyte imbalance resulting in headaches and fatigue (as well as one nasty hangover).
  • Apart from diarrhea, herbal teas can also cause digestion problems, abdominal cramps, vomiting and/or weakness.
  • Laxative teas have also been known to reduce the potassium levels in blood, which leads to muscle weakness and kidney malfunction.
  • If you consume these herbal laxative tea’s over a period of time, your colon is likely to become sluggish and your body could lose the ability to produce normal bowel movements

Natural laxatives include that of the Cascara Sagrada, Aloe and Castor Oil. Many experts claim these botanical laxatives should only be considered AFTER diet, lifestyle and other potential causes have been ruled out.

But doesn’t a laxative mean I am consuming less calories?

Many believe it is simply a case of enjoying an extra piece of chocolate cake and then following it up with a laxative to stop the absorption of extra calories. Unfortunately, this is not the case; in fact, taking laxatives to lose weight actually doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The process of digestion begins in the mouth, by chewing your food and mixing it with saliva, you have stimulated the digestion process, this then progresses through the stomach, the small and large intestines and finally on to the colon. By the time you food reaches your bowels, it has almost been entirely digested.  To support this, the FDA’s Food Advisory Committee concluded in 1995 that studies show that laxative-induced diarrhea does not significantly reduce absorption of calories. This is because the laxatives do not work on the small intestine, where calories are absorbed, but rather on the colon, the lower end of the bowel.

My girlfriend stared back at me. “This is why I felt so ill, because I was severely dehydrated to begin with?” Given her healthy approach to diet and lifestyle, this was more than likely the case.

I recommend all clients keep well away from laxative teas.

If you feel like your digestion is struggling and this could be leading to unwanted weight gain, fatigue or bloating, tomorrow I discuss a few tips and tricks that may help you improve your overall health and wellbeing.

1 Comment

  1. Sophie

    So well put thanks for this.

    Have tried to convince many people that this is not the way to go for weight loss!


  1. Improving Digestion & Traditional Chinese Medicine | An Apple a day - [...] Yesterday I spoke about why Laxative Tea’s don’t work. You can read about this post here. [...]

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Meet Alyse

I’m a qualified Nutritionist who believes an evidence-based approach to modern nutrition is severely under-rated. Patients are so often left in the dark when it comes to health-care and as a firm believer in the old saying “knowledge is power”, my ultimate goal is to provide my readers, students and patients with clear and actionable advice that ultimately helps you reach your full potential.