Buying Boxes of Detox Tea and Low-Calorie Sweeteners? Read This!

investigating the science behind alternative weight loss methods

By Michael Ormsbee, PhDFlorida State University
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, The Great Courses Daily

It is common knowledge that exercise and eating healthy are the most effective ways to lose body fat, but these methods can still be supplemented with other outside-the-box techniques. Professor Ormsbee investigates artificial sweeteners and detox diets.

Tea and yoga mat
Studies show that the use of artificial, low-calorie sweeteners as a means to reduce body weight, body mass index, fat mass, or waist circumference is not healthy. Photo By Zenza Flarini / Shutterstock

Data on Low-Calorie Sweeteners

In 2014, a meta-analysis tallied the data from over 35 years of research evaluating low-calorie sweeteners and their impact on body weight and body composition. This was one of the most comprehensive reviews completed on  

It was reported that the use of low-calorie sweeteners resulted in a modest but significant reduction in body weight, body mass index, fat mass, and waist circumference. Based on these results, the authors concluded that using low-calorie sweeteners instead of full-calorie versions could improve weight loss. 

However, conflicting data exist, too. Some claim that the use of artificial sweeteners can actually increase body weight and may cause negative health effects.

For example, one study evaluated the metabolic effects of one sugar substitute called sucralose, which is sold as Splenda®. Results showed that one dose of sucralose caused a small increase in blood glucose concentrations, an increase in insulin levels, and a decrease in insulin clearance. 

Even with no calories, sucralose may still cause an increase in blood glucose, albeit small, which is the exact opposite of the desired effect of artificial sweeteners. Others have looked at sucralose consumption over 12 weeks. 

This study was done in rats and it also looked at doses of sucralose equivalent to what humans would normally eat. Results showed a decrease in the good type of fecal microflora and increased fecal pH. An imbalance of good and bad gastrointestinal microflora, or bacteria in your gut, may be related to weight gain and obesity.

Bottom Line on Sugar Substitutes

What is the bottom line about low-calorie sweeteners, then? You may find success using low-calorie sweeteners in moderation to decrease energy intake and help maintain weight loss. 

Although more research is needed, it seems reasonable to try choosing the artificial sweeteners that are as natural as you can get. For example, Stevia is an herb; you can even grow it in your garden. 

“Now, just because they may be more natural does not mean that they’re safer,” Professor Ormsbee said. “It is probably best to just limit added sugars or artificial sweeteners when possible.”

Are Detox Diets the Answer?

Other popular dietary methods that people use to improve body composition and weight loss is the popular detox or cleanse diet. Detox regimens normally include serious calorie restriction and focus on the consumption of fruits and vegetables only, many times in the form of juices. 

Major advocates of these types of diets are celebrities who claim that cleanses provide them with more energy and help them to quickly lose weight. Do the celebrities or the scientists have this figured out, then?

First of all, it can’t be denied that with low-calorie intake you are likely to see weight loss results, but where is this weight loss coming from? Is it from fat or muscle? 

In fact, the weight loss from detox diets is most likely coming from a loss of stored glucose—also called glycogen. This makes sense because when you drastically reduce calorie intake, you will also lower your blood glucose quite a bit. 

This would make you rely on stored glycogen found in your liver and your muscles to help keep a normal blood glucose concentration. In fact, you will deplete glycogen stores from your body in just 24 to 48 hours, which results in even more weight loss because glycogen is stored with water.

Thus, you end up losing stored glucose and water weight. Cleanses or detox diets only provide short-term fixes for weight loss and do not result in long-term improvements in fat mass. 

“They might even decrease your muscle mass, which is definitely not desirable,” Professor Ormsbee said. “In my opinion, the science does not support the use of detox diets for health or body composition improvements—until I see consistent research evidence to the contrary. Having a healthy liver is all the detox power that you need.”

Dr. Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University.

Michael Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University. He received his MS in Exercise Physiology from South Dakota State University and his PhD in Bioenergetics from East Carolina University.

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for The Great Courses Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for The Great Courses Daily.
About Kate Findley 441 Articles
Kate is a writer, novelist, and blogger living in Los Angeles. She has been writing for The Great Courses since 2017. It incorporates her two favorite things: writing and learning.