They may be herbal, organic and used by respected weight loss and detox centers, but are laxative teas ever really good for you? Typically containing senna as the main ingredient, teas like Yogi Tea’s Get Regular and Traditional Medicinals’ Smooth Move sit on shelves amongst the chamomile and mint teas at health food and grocery stores worldwide. Colon-cleansing fans and dieters alike sip on these stimulant laxatives during the day or before they go to sleep, but may not be aware that they could cause more harm than good.
“There are varying levels of laxatives and senna teas are stimulants, which are the strongest kind,” Holly Herrington, MS, RD, LDN, of Northwestern Medical Group explains to LivingHealthy. “Yes, senna is naturally occurring, but it works the same way as Ex-Lax and Dulcolax stimulant laxatives do, by irritating your intestinal wall and stimulating your colon, forcing your body to get rid of whatever is in your digestive tract.” However these types of teas, marketed to relieve “occasional constipation”, have become a regular practice of The Master Cleanse followers and at health and fitness retreats like The Ranch at Live Oak, The Ashram and The Pearl Laguna.
Herrington disagrees with the practice of using laxatives for anything other than constipation. “When you use laxatives for a ‘cleanse’ purpose, all you are doing is cleaning out your colon,” she explains. “You will not lose weight; you are not cleansing or detoxing your body. You are cleaning out your colon. That’s it.” Though there may not be any immediate negative consequences, she points out that if laxatives are repeatedly used for cleansing or weight-loss purposes, eventually the individual could become dependent, needing them for daily elimination.
Other possible side effects include dehydration and nutrient absorption loss, which can lead to serious nutritional imbalances, even causing grave damage to the gastrointestinal tract, brain and colon or potentially igniting kidney and heart issues. LivingHealthy expert and Certified QRA Practitioner and Nutritional Consultant Mary Kay Finn is also wary of using laxative teas for weight loss. “I am not a general fan of laxatives, but I don’t mind if someone uses them as part of cleanse, once or twice a week,” she says. “But if you are doing a cleanse and your bowels are functioning properly, you shouldn’t need a laxative.”
In lieu of senna, she suggests a warm water enema to flush the bowels during a cleanse then taking probiotics and getting water, salt, fiber and oil back into the body to restore the balance of your gut ecology. “An enema is simple and easy to do at home in your bathroom,” she says. “It takes 15 minutes and some purified water,”
Finn and Herrington both agree that using laxative teas as directed for occasional constipation is harmless. Yet they say that if constipation persists, the issue must be tackled from the inside out with the help of a doctor and/or nutritionist because root causes may include dietary imbalances or gastrointestinal disorders.