Staying in shape is simple enough in theory: eat less crap and move more often. But as the UK's multi-billion pound diet industry indicates, something about that formula just doesn't work well for most of us.
And it certainly has no chance of working, when tempting shortcuts like magical fat-melting teas you drink twice daily keep appearing on the market.
That's the premise of teatoxes - teas sold as the ultimate weight loss or detox solution. And if popular Instagram pictures like these are to be believed, they'll transform you from fat and frumpy to slim and sexy in just 28 days.
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Sceptical? Don't worry, because there's also an army of young, gorgeous celebrities (like Kylie Jenner of Kardashian fame or Model Ava Capra) posting pictures of themselves with teatoxes all over Instagram - clear proof that these teas must really work... right?
There's nothing new about over-hyped miracle weight loss and detox potions, but these particular teatoxes have set a new low by adding the dangerous laxative senna into their teas, while marketing them as safe, natural and effective weight loss or detox remedies - even though laxatives do not have any impact on fat loss, calorie absorption or mythical detoxification by the body.
I want to be specific though (because not all teatoxes contain laxatives) - the top 3 companies in the UK who appear to be glamorising their laxative-containing teatoxes online are Bootea, Skinnymint and Slendertoxtea.
Now, why would a company selling a slimming detox product want to add a laxative like senna into their tea... especially if their formulations, which usually feature green tea and caffeine-packed substances like guarana and yerba mate, really cause the legitimate weight loss they claim it does?
Logically it makes no sense and seems like a waste of money on their part because:
- There is NO scientific evidence anywhere that shows laxatives cause fat loss or detox the body (in fact there's no such thing as detoxing outside of treating drug addiction or chemical poisoning).
- The only medically and scientifically proven effective use for laxatives is treating constipation.
- Prolonged laxative use (longer than the 1-2 weeks advised by senna tablet manufacturers) is associated with a whole host of nasty conditions including colon damage and potential heart malfunction.
In fact, the U.S National Library of Medicines warns:
"Don't use senna for more than two weeks. Longer use can cause the bowels to stop functioning normally and might cause dependence on laxatives. Long-term use can also change the amount or balance of some chemicals in the blood (electrolytes) that can cause heart function disorders, muscle weakness, liver damage, and other harmful effects."
But if the laxatives aren't in these teatoxes because they cause fat loss, there's only one other logical reason why a company would be willing to put its customers at risk of a variety of nasty conditions.
Could it have a little something to do with the way a bout of diarrhoea can make a person feel light, cleansed and slimmer... without actually making them slimmer or cleansed in reality?
That's because laxatives like senna causes lots of water to be lost from the body along with key electrolytes like sodium and potassium. Doing this once in a while isn't the end of the world, but doing it for 28 days and then repeating this month after month - albeit with a week's break as advised by companies like Slendertoxtea - can screw up your bowels, heart and muscles, because they need those electrolytes you're flushing down the toilet to function properly.
The final kick in the teeth is that because you're just losing water weight, when you stop the teatox, you'll put the weight back on.
Problem number two with the laxative-laced teatox movement is that laxative abuse is prolific in eating disorders.
Beat, the UK's eating disorder charity, released this report into laxative abuse a few years ago, which showed that laxative abuse is common among the 725,000 eating disorder sufferers in the UK... and that it's linked with the incorrect belief that laxatives assist weight loss. I approached the charity to get their thoughts on the portrayal of laxative teatoxes as the drink of choice for the young, thin and fabulous.
A spokesperson said: "Physically, taking laxatives cannot aid fat loss or weight loss, and when taken for a prolonged period of time they can cause severe damage to an individual's digestive system... We are concerned that the marketing technique surrounding teatoxes could normalise the use of laxatives as a behavioural choice, rather than taking them for a medical need."
I then contacted three of the popular teatox companies that use senna in their detox products - Bootea, Slendertoxtea and Skinny mint - hoping to get an explanation. I called, left voicemails, emailed, filled in 'contact me' forms, but all were mysteriously silent.
All... except Slendertoxtea, who I asked for the scientific literature to back up the claim that their teas " break down the fatty deposits in your gastro-intestinal tract, leading to less bloating, increased metabolism and increased your energy levels" as stated on their website.
"We have over 500 positive reviews and have loyal customers who continue to re-buy. A high proportion of people, particularly women suffer with bloating and feeling sluggish, our blends have proved to be a real remedy for these symptoms."
So... no scientific evidence then.
And no mention of attempts to trial it for safety and efficacy before letting it loose on the public.
I smell bullshit, which begs the question: is this even legal?
I put the teatox regulation question to the UK's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and they told me: "The MHRA is currently reviewing a number of cases of teas that are making laxative claims. If these are regarded to be medicinal products then appropriate action will be taken under medicines legislation."
But what happens in the meantime?
I'm cutting to the chase by challenging these companies to cut the crap... literally by taking the senna out of their night-time teatox drinks.
As Bootea is the most widely available teatox in the UK, I'm making a start with them with this petition. Please sign it to help get Bootea to remove the laxatives from their teatoxes and put a stop to diet companies that put their profits before your health.