Do Fat-Burning Teas Really Work—And Are They Safe?

We asked 3 health experts to weigh in.

January 12, 2018
We hope you enjoy the products we're recommending as much as we do! Just so you know, Prevention may get a share of sales from the links on this page.
Fat-Burning Teas
Hoxton/Tom Merton/Getty Images

You’ve no doubt seen ads for them on social media—and maybe even had a friend or two post about how they helped her slim down quick. Fat-burning teas are everywhere, and their lure of fast, effortless weight loss can be super tempting.

But are they legit? Testimonials from slim, toned celebs might make you a believer. (If it worked for her, it’ll work for me!) And since most of the brews claim to be made with all natural, herbal ingredients, it’s easy to assume that at the very least, there’s nothing to lose.

(Sculpt your belly, butt, and thighs with the 20-minute workouts in the all-new Prevention Toning Transformation!)

But experts disagree. The majority of dietitians and doctors alike say teas that claim to help you burn fat are ineffective at best, and they can be dangerous at worst. Here, three share what they wish everyone new about these products—and why you should steer clear.

Fat-Burning Teas
Getty Images
You might lose water weight, but not much else.

The expert: Christine Palumbo, RDN, FAND, Nominating Committee member for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Her take: Far from being a safe and natural route to slimming down, so-called fat-burning teas are full of harsh herbal ingredients that bring on quick, temporary weight loss by diuresis and laxation. In other words, you pee out excessive amounts of fluid and your bowels get a workout from the harsh laxatives.

Some of the most common ingredients you’ll find are things like senna, rhubarb root, buckthorn, cascara, castor oil, dandelion leaf, cassia, burdock, catsia, and prunella. They’re herbs—but they can still potentially dehydrate you. And the laxatives could create a dependency, making it difficult for you to have natural bowel movements without them.

MORE: 7 Things Your Poop Says About You

Plus, any weight you lose consists only of water or solid waste—not actual body fat. That means that any pounds that come off while drinking these teas will come right back once you stop taking them. For these reasons, I do NOT recommend these products. (Try these 6 tips from Jillian Michaels that will help you lose weight the right way.)

Fat-Burning Teas
Getty Images
“Natural” doesn’t always equal safe.

The expert: Adrienne Youdim, MD, physician nutrition specialist and associate clinical professor of medicine at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine

Her take: Supplements—even ones made from herbal ingredients—are completely unregulated. Manufacturers can put anything on the label and make claims that are unsubstantiated. What’s more frightening is that often times, they do not disclose all of the ingredients. This is especially true when it comes to supplements touted for weight loss, which can include teas.

Weight loss teas and supplements have been found to contain dangerous (and sometimes illegal) ingredients like ephedra and cybutrine, which are tied to heart attacks. Bitter orange, a banned stimulant, has also been found in some products. I’ve had patients who’ve taken weight loss supplements that were purchased from places like vitamin shops, who then suffered seizures. (These 15 common supplement ingredients could make you seriously sick.)

That’s why I always warn my patients to be wary of anything specifically sold for weight loss. The bottom line is that just because a tea that claims to help with weight loss is made with natural ingredients, that doesn’t make it safe.

Here's how to start walking for weight loss:

We hope you enjoy the products we're recommending as much as we do! Just so you know, Prevention may get a share of sales from the links on this page.
Fat-Burning Teas
Getty Images
You’re better off drinking real tea.

The expert: Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, co-author of Eat Clean, Stay Lean: The Diet and The Superfoods Rx Diet

Her take: Namely, simple black, green, or white varieties. Tea, especially green tea, is rich in epigallocatechin gallate (or EGCG), a compound that evidence suggests could play a role in weight loss. There are a few different mechanisms for how it might work: Some studies show that EGCG is involved in calorie-burning, increasing the breakdown of fat, inhibiting the formation of new fat cells, and helping reduce fat absorption by the body.

MORE: 6 Things That Happened When I Drank Green Tea Every Day For A Month

Of course, drinking green tea alone probably won’t help you reach your weight loss goal. But it might support your efforts—so enjoy it in tandem with a healthy diet, and make an effort to be physically active every day. Have it hot or iced, and consider adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. The vitamin C in the juice has been shown to help the body absorb up to five times more EGCG.

The one exception to keep in mind? Steer clear of green tea extracts. These highly concentrated forms of green tea could cause adverse events like dizziness or irregular heartbeat. So stick with a simple cup of the brewed stuff.