This article was written by dietetic student Myesha Rolle & reviewed by Melanie Betz MS, RD, CSR, CSG.
Kidney detox tea has become very popular in recent years. With the number of “cleanses” floating around social media, the interest in them has increased even more. So what’s the deal with kidney detox tea? Are they really as healthy as everyone thinks? And if so, can their “cleansing powers” help detox people with kidney disease? First, let’s talk about what a detox tea really is.
What is a Kidney Detox Tea?
Detox teas or “cleanses” are beverages that are consumed alone or as part of a short-term diet plan. These plans claim to promote health by removing toxins from your body and helping you lose weight.(1) There are a ton of detox teas and diets out there, and each one suggests that they hold the key to optimal toxin removal. So what does being on one of these diets actually involve? Well there are a wide range of detox methods and they can include:
- Fasting (full starvation or juice/tea fasts)
- Eating only certain “cleansing foods”
- Taking dietary supplements
- Using enemas, laxatives, or diuretics
- Using a sauna
Martha’s Vineyard Detox Diet
A popular detox diet that includes detox teas within their plan is the Martha’s Vineyard Detox Diet. In this 21 day program, you must go on a liquid-only diet consisting of vegetable juice and soup, herbal tea, supplements that act as laxatives, cocktails, and digestive enzymes. This plan also requires the use of organic coffee enemas or traditional water enemas. Martha’s Vineyard Detox Diet claims that by completing their program you will lose 21 pounds in 21 days, release toxins from your body, and increase your strength.(1)
Master Cleanser Lemon Detox Tea
Not all detox programs will allow you to eat other foods in addition to detox teas. An example of this is one of the more common standalone detox teas – “the master cleanser/lemon detox tea.” This diet plan is a 10 day program that consists of replacing all meals with a detox tea containing lemon juice, purified water, cayenne pepper and tree syrup. In this program, you can also drink sea salt water and a mild laxative herbal tea. According to “the master cleanser,” after 10 days of their detox you will have eliminated toxins from your body, lost weight, and developed glowing skin, shiny hair and strong nails.(1)
What these programs won’t tell you is that their regimens are severely lacking in the precious nutrients your body needs. They are also dangerous because they often cause diarrhea which leads to even more nutrient loss and is what contributes to the weight loss seen in those who enroll in these detox tea programs.
So what is the truth? Are detox teas and diets really the toxin elimination problem-solvers they claim to be?
Does Kidney Detox Tea Actually Work?
It turns out that very few studies have been conducted on detox teas or detox diets in humans. Of those studies, many were not even credible. They were not peer reviewed, had a flawed study design, or small sample size. Reviews of the evidence have found that there is no clinical research to support claims that these diets eliminate toxins or help with weight management. And if short-term weight loss is achieved, it is not sustainable in the long run.(2)
So we know that the evidence supporting the effectiveness of detox diets is lacking, but are they even necessary to begin with? The answer to that question can be found in our liver and kidneys.
The Liver and Kidneys: Our Body’s Detox Machines
The body already has a natural detoxification system that involves the liver and kidneys. These vital organs transform toxins, and remove waste products and excess fluid from the body.
The liver’s role in all of this is to break down harmful substances in the body. The waste products that remain enter the bile and are carried away to the intestine, ultimately leaving the body in our feces.(3)
Some waste products enter the blood and travel to the kidneys, where they are filtered. Any water, minerals, and nutrients that the body needs are returned to the blood and any waste that is not needed or can be harmful leaves the body in our urine.(4)
Detox Teas and Kidney Disease
At this point, you may be thinking “But if I have kidney disease, don’t I need detox teas to help give my kidneys a little detoxification boost?” No, you don’t. In fact, drinking these teas or going on a detox diet if you have kidney disease can worsen kidney problems, not improve them.
The Dangers of Detox Diets
There are a number of health risks of detox diets:
- The extreme energy restriction involved with these diets could lead to vitamin deficiencies, electrolyte imbalances, and a slowed metabolism. A slow metabolism can make it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight in the future (2)
- The detox diet and supplement industry is not very regulated, which makes it difficult to verify their claims or check to see if the ingredients match the attached labels1. The FDA and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have reprimanded a number of detox diet companies for selling products containing illegal and/or harmful ingredients, and marketing these products with false claims of treating serious diseases (like chronic kidney disease) (2)
- You may run the risk of overdosing on herbal/nutrient supplements and water, which can be especially dangerous in kidney disease. If your kidneys are not working as well as they should, the body cannot remove waste and fluids as effectively (1)
- There is also the chance that you may overdose on laxatives and diuretics, leading to dehydration. This is highly problematic for people with kidney disease because dehydration can cause long-term damage to the kidneys. Not only does water help remove wastes from the blood, it plays an important role in keeping your blood vessels open so the nutrients in the blood can be delivered to your kidneys (5)
- Many detox teas or diet plans are high in potassium or a compound called oxalate. Drinking large amounts of these teas when you have kidney disease, or a history of kidney stones, could cause these substances to build up to harmful levels. (2) In fact, there have been reports of healthy people causing kidney damage with “smoothie cleanses” and juicing. (6)(7) Of course, tea, fruits and veggies are good for us! The problem comes with eating or drinking very large amounts of something outside of a well-balanced meal plan.
To Detox or Not To Detox?
In the end, the risks associated with drinking detox teas or going on a detox diet far outweigh any of their proposed benefits – especially if you have kidney disease. At best, detox diets are not effective. Worst case scenario, they can permanently damage your kidneys or other organs.
If you really want to help manage your kidney disease with kidney-friendly foods, ditch the detox teas and focus on eating healthy foods (7):
- Foods low in sodium
- Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables
- More plant proteins
- Foods without phosphorus additives
If you need help putting together and preparing your kidney healthy meals, there are a ton of recipes here to give you the kick start you need!