Ask EN

July 2016 Issue




Don’t Fall for Teatoxing; Arginine and Heart Health

Q: Are there any benefits to teatoxing?

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A: Of all nutrition misinformation, the idea that one can “detox” to lose weight and get healthy is among the most popular and potentially most harmful. Proponents claim that you can ”flush your system” by drinking special concoctions. Teatoxing, a hybrid of ”tea” and “detox,” adds a new twist to an old story: a special tea drunk twice a day will “remove toxins” and help you lose weight. The problem: there’s little scientific evidence that it works. In order to lose weight, you must reduce calorie intake. And “detoxing” is a premise with no scientific foundation to prove it’s correct. Our bodies regularly remove toxins through our liver and kidneys.

Many teatoxing teas contain senna leaf—a known herbal laxative. Consumers of the tea may have increased bowel movements which might give the impression of a detox. This could also result in weight loss, but not in a healthful way.

On a bright note, teatoxing plans also may include recommendations for healthy eating. One such program suggests eating a diet comprised of fruits, vegetables, beans, tofu, oats, and brown rice. Now that’s a recommendation we can get behind—no special tea required.

Matt Ruscigno, MPH, RD

Q: Should I consider taking arginine supplements for heart health?

A: Arginine (aka L-arginine) is one of 20 amino acids that make up the building blocks of protein. As a supplement, arginine has some scientifically supported benefits, and other potential benefits which have not yet been proven. Arginine is converted to nitric acid in the body and acts as a vasodilator, opening up the blood vessels.

Conditions that might improve with increased blood flow, such as heart disease caused by clogged arteries, high blood pressure, or even erectile dysfunction, could possibly improve with arginine supplementation. Therapeutic dosages have been shown to decrease the frequency of angina and improve cognitive function in elderly patients with cardiovascular disease, but the evidence is not conclusive.

Ongoing research to determine if arginine supplementation is effective for other conditions, such as diabetes treatment, recovery after surgery, exercise tolerance, cholesterol control, infertility treatment, altitude sickness, burn treatment, and treatment for HIV complications, is needed before recommendations can be made. The dangers of using arginine as a supplement include possible bleeding in people with bleeding disorders (because of arginine’s vasodilator effects), increased levels of potassium, low blood pressure levels (especially when used along with blood pressure-lowering medications), and effects on blood sugar levels (especially for those taking insulin or oral drugs to control blood sugar).

Sharon Salomon, MS, RD