Okay! The big one! There are so many (unreferenced) articles, blogs, podcasts around the world about how tea is a miracle cure, it can do everything, cure everything, but what does the science actually say about one of the biggest Googled searches?
As we are one of the few referenced tea blogs out there, here is my take on fat weight loss and tea:
Read on to learn…
- Can green tea help with weight loss? The positive studies
- Averaged results of green tea on weight loss
- How does green tea help weight loss?
- Can black tea aid weight loss?
- Which is better for weight loss: Tea or coffee?
- Can chamomile tea aid weight loss?
- If some is good, is more always better? Green tea extracts, concentrates and pills
- Are “Detox Teas” and “Skinny” teas safe?
This is my interpretation, helping you digest the research out there, but I link to the studies we have found so you can also read further and make up your own mind. :-)
To be clear, “weight loss” of course is not universally good. Someone may be at a healthy weight, underweight, or overweight, specific to their body with whatever diet, genetics, history, etc. they have. The BMI of an Olympian would say they are overweight, so weight is only part of the story of what is “healthy”!
Therefore the research we have done concerns the studies where the scientists are examining ways fat weight can be reduced, when that is the desired result.
Can Green Tea Help with Weight Loss? The positive studies
The majority of research focuses on green tea concentrates in the form of extracts, followed by looking at isolated constituent’s effects on obesity such as EGCG. We can find little research, beyond observational studies (which are not done in controlled settings) on the beverage itself. But! I have scoured the research and turned up some interesting information.
First I will share the studies where there does seem to be an impact, however hold judgement until you read further.
In one controlled randomized study in Iran which lasted about a year (hence our opening with it), participants in the test group had a cup of green tea 30 minutes before breakfast and lunch (Nabi). Those in the placebo group consumed an equal amount of mineral water before the same meals.
Over the course of the study changes over time were significant in terms of weight loss and BMI, but not for other measurements such as waist to hip circumference.
They found that the intake of 1,200 mg of EGCG and 480 mg of caffeine has significant weight loss effects, which they found was in agreement with other studies.
They also found that the benefits for green tea increased over time, though they cannot rule out the additional contribution of the placebo effect and the power of the mind in the expectation of positive results.
The authors from above mentioned in their report a 12 week Japanese study which found that consuming green tea with 690 mg of catechins over 12 weeks decreased body fat mass, BMI, body weight, and waist circumference compared to control (Nabi).
At the end of the study they concluded:
Green tea could be a safe and effective choice for patients with obesity. However, further well-designed trials are required to confirm these findings.
For a refresher on what EGCG and catechins are read The Most Common Antioxidants in Green Tea
Yet another study they referenced looked at green tea extract but the findings are important: Low extract doses yielded poor results but higher doses yielded impressive results, suggesting weight-loss benefits are dose-dependent. We cover more on the safety of green tea extracts later in this article, don't worry!
In a 2013 Mauritian randomized study, where they were looking for a relevance to diabetes, the authors found that three cups of green tea per day over 12 weeks suppressed waist-hip ratio from significant increase in women (Toolsee).
Additionally, the biological antioxidant potential increased and the transaminase levels in the lever decreased. Jargon busting: transaminase is an indication of liver health - as in, liver damage can be indicated by increased transaminases.
So in this case, reducing them was seen as a good thing.
Averaged Results of Green Tea on Weight Loss: a Conclusion
Literature reviews (which this article is a form of), are fantastic for reviewing a broad set of studies and data in one go, as an overview, like a sort of “average” of studies. As a review paper by Jurgens et al in the Cochrane Library states:
A number of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) evaluating the role of green tea in weight loss have been published; however, the efficacy of green tea preparations in weight loss remains unclear (Jurgens).
They go on to find many RCTs (randomized control trials, where placebo groups are used for comparison) of at least 12 weeks' duration. They looked for any studies like this which compared green tea infusions to a control group in overweight or obese adults.
We personally put a lot of weight on literature reviews, when done robustly, openly and clearly, given. We think their conclusion effectively answers the question on green tea as a tea (not an extract):
Green tea preparations appear to induce a small, statistically non‐significant weight loss in overweight or obese adults. Because the amount of weight loss is small, it is not likely to be clinically important. Green tea had no significant effect on the maintenance of weight loss. Of those studies recording information on adverse events, only two identified an adverse event requiring hospitalisation. The remaining adverse events were judged to be mild to moderate (Jurgens).
So while we wanted to show you some RCTs that did show statistically significant results, when we found this literature review it casts much doubt on the overall effectiveness of green tea for weight loss. As scientists, we need to overall conclude that the impact is small. We will look at green tea extracts later in this article for comparison.
So remember that there is no “magic pill”!
Even in the numerous successful studies which saw the most benefit, like one in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, they combined green tea interventions with exercise and diet (Huang). More benefit is seen in tea-drinking cultures.
Combining regular green tea consumption with exercise and a healthy diet is linked to fat weight loss (Huang).
How Does Green Tea Help Weight Loss?
Many of the studies above still find an effect, whether or not it is statistically significant. Out of interest, let us look at how any of this occurs, the theories and research behind the effects.
Examining the Iranian and Mauritian studies above, along with the larger literature review, there is a focus on fat metabolism.
That is, the way consumption of green tea blunts glycemic response after post-exercise glucose uptake...what?! Well in plain English this means, after exercise, when consuming sugars (say from a meal), the blood-sugar and insulin level does not rise or spike as easily/quickly.
As a reminder, insulin is an essential part of the body’s metabolism. It regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and protein. It does this by helping the absorption of glucose in the blood into liver, fat and muscle cells.
Further, they find this may desensitize insulin-resistance in muscle tissue. This is a good thing because you do want the body to respond to the insulin it creates (rather than the body creating insulin to manage its metabolism and then your cells ignoring it!).
It may increase adiponectin levels too, one of the compounds responsible for glucose and fat metabolism (Bloemer).
The paper from the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition goes further introducing other mechanisms which green tea can help impact fat metabolism:
...data from laboratory studies have shown that green tea has important roles in fat metabolism by reducing food intake, interrupting lipid emulsification and absorption, suppressing adipogenesis and lipid synthesis and increasing energy expenditure via thermogenesis, fat oxidation and fecal lipid excretion (Huang).
So overall you can see why scientists are interested in green tea’s effects on obesity, with the consumption of the drink affecting the body’s ways to promote the metabolism, and assisting the body to respond in a more managed way after the intake of glucose (sugar) and lipids (fats and oils).
As we have said though, it doesn’t appear to be significant enough that green tea alone will make much of a difference.
At a very different angle, there is also something to be said about replacing caloric drinks with low calorie tea in terms of beverage choice, and consuming tea before meals mechanistically leads to feeling full sooner with lower caloric intake.
Can Black Tea Aid Weight Loss?
Although it’s less studied than green tea, there are studies which show black tea does have weight-loss effects. While the catechins are responsible for weight loss in green tea, it seems the polyphenols are also responsible in black tea (Pan). Cachetins are a type of polyphenol, but they are not found in black tea so it is other polyphenols.
In a study looking for the mechanisms of how this can occur, they found black tea inhibits fat and sugar digestion and absorption thereby leading to a lower caloric load (Pan). It increases fat metabolism and decreases fat accumulation. They found black tea also interfered with pathological processes and comorbidities of obesity by reducing oxidative stress (another win for antioxidant teas)!
Another study in 2018 explains that the weight loss effects of black teas and other “fermented” teas (even though black tea is oxidized, not necessarily fermented), are enhanced by the production of short chain fatty acids, which improve fat metabolism (Rothenberg).
These are only two studies with no literature reviews we found, so a pinch of salt should be taken when considering the results.
Unsurprisingly, the first study above concludes that “compared with the investigation of the anti-obesity effect of green tea, more studies on black tea are needed” while the second notes some results were inconsistent (Rothenberg).
So unfortunately unlike with our green tea research, we don’t have a clear takeaway about black tea and weight loss.
The eternal debate of coffee vs tea for weight loss...
Which is Better for Weight Loss: Tea or Coffee?
Coffee contains stimulants such as caffeine and theobromine, which act on certain neurotransmitters to increase energy. Stimulants also tend to decrease appetite, and increase adrenaline which catalyzes the release of fatty acids from fat tissue (to be metabolized). Coffee also increases metabolism.
However, tolerance to stimulants (caffeine) can grow making them less effective at fat burning. We also found an older study from 1995 that found that caffeine had a greater fat-burning effect in lean women than it does in obese women (Bracco).
It appears that most studies attached to coffee and weight loss look specifically at caffeine rather than the jittery bean-water itself.
A small study cited by Harvard saw a modest (4%) fat reduction in those who drank 4 cups of plain coffee per day compared to control, but the authors concluded that the effects were most likely due to the caffeine content (Harvard).
Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be long term effects connected to weight loss and coffee consumption, suggesting that tea may be the preferred way to go (Gunnars).
Read about the differences between tea and coffee on kidney health in our blog Is Tea, Coffee or Caffeine Good for Your Kidneys?
Can Chamomile Tea Aid Weight Loss?
There aren’t any studies that look at the direct effects of chamomile on weight loss that we can find. So let's look at the connection from some different angles rather than give up, in an attempt to learn.
Chamomile is an herb with a high-nutrient profile and it’s rich in minerals such as magnesium and calcium (Szöke).
Thus from my understand, using chamomile may have two supporting actions:
➔ Mechanical: Drinking chamomile tea during the day is both a low-calorie, refreshing beverage which can replace high calorie drinks, and by consuming it prior to meals it adds volume which stretches the intestines resulting in satiation signals and fewer calories consumed (Lewis).
➔ Nutritional: Chamomile can supplement magnesium in the diet (Szöke). It also has glycemic control benefits (Mao). That is, magnesium deficiencies have been implicated in weight issues, as it helps regulate insulin and glucose levels (Goldman, Spritzler). Recall from our green tea discussion and the glycemic action, how helping the body to manage the highs and lows of blood-glucose and how sugars and fats enter the cells, also are helping to manage metabolism.
A field of chamomile, so beautiful!
If Some is Good, is More Always Better? Green Tea Extracts, Concentrates & Pills for Weight Loss
Many people have the idea that “more is better”, but when it comes to plant medicines (including tea) this isn’t necessarily true. Perhaps I should say, like almost everything this isn’t true!
When looking at studies it is important to pay attention to the dose taken and the length of the study. Some studies may claim safety, but if you look closely you’ll see often they were quite short so you cannot take that as evidence you should take X, Y or Z for an extended period of time.
So let’s look at the research we found concerning green tea extracts (GTE for short):
One study found that a high dose GTE with 856.8 mg of EGCG significantly reduced weight, lipid profiles and obesity-related hormone peptides (this is the name of a protein-based hormone).
The hunger hormone ghrelin was reduced and adiponectin increased (recall from earlier that adiponectin helps glucose and fat metabolism). No adverse effects were noted over the 12 week course of the study and so, as we just mentioned, one might conclude only that this dose is safe for up to 12 weeks.
Note: we explicitly say that you should talk with your healthcare provider before taking any supplement such as green tea extracts. Your body is a temple and so don’t just willy-nilly starting taking this or that because there is a study or studies saying this or that. A wider view is always needed.
A Cochrane literature review found that GTE did lead to weight loss though they concluded it was not clinically relevant, and noted that adverse effects varied from none to hypertension and gastrointestinal upset (Jurgens).
Personally I am not surprised as I am not a big fan of concentrated doses which the body has little history of being used to, rather than consuming a healthy and balanced diet, which you can engineer to contain the particular things you want to consume.
In a randomised, double-blind, crossover trial, which is where the test group and the placebo group both have a turn in each category (I know! So clever! To work out if an effect is really true), researchers found that 856.8 mg EGCG in GTE extract intervention led to a decrease in “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and an increase in leptin (the hunger-satiation hormone), but not other weight loss markers significantly changed (Huang Lin-Huang).
No adverse effects were noted, but the study was only 6 weeks long. Pretty short!
The authors of one study in the prestigious Nature journal, cited several studies noting dosage and length, with the extracts or beverage consumption noting that studies which showed effects in the short term (6-8 weeks) had a higher amount of catechins (800-870 mg) with <10 mg of caffeine and longer studies (3 months) had a lower amount (379 mg catechins, with 208 mg being EGCG) (Huang).
All studies showed a downward trend in weight loss.
The same authors mentioned a study in which the test group received the GTE supplement and the control received only caffeine. Compared to control, it was concluded that the catechins were the active compounds, and caffeine was less effective, so that’s interesting.
Overall, studies on GTE in the west tend to find great variation in effectiveness and results (that paper in Nature in 2014 is a literature review) (Huang). Eastern studies find greater benefit.
As mentioned earlier, the tea-drinking culture of easterners should not be discounted as an impact, which could be an indication for tea vs extract and how to safely and effectively lose weight.
My Opinion: Tea Extracts & Supplements Aren't Safe Enough
So, perhaps we can see that it is effective generally, but is it safe? Hmm, well…
Human trials are fairly short, with the main adverse effects centering on gastrointestinal discomfort, nausea, and vomiting, though elevated transaminase levels have been observed (and these are markers for potential liver damage) (Nabi, Kobayashi).
Animal trials utilizing high doses of EGCG have observed acute hepatitis, elevated liver enzymes, pro-inflammatory responses, liver cell oxidative stress, and hemorrhagic lesions in the stomach and intestines (Nabi).
In a safety review, green tea beverage traditionally prepared was considered generally safe, while catechin doses above 800 mg were found to significantly elevate serum transaminases (EFSA).
Another review noted possible liver damaging effects from concentrated forms of green tea and suggested health guidance (Hu). One expert noted that under fasting conditions (and expressed concerns for calorie-restricted diets) high doses of EGCG become more threatening and pose a threat to liver and kidney health (Carpineti).
The studies are short, but involve high concentrations of very specific compounds. Levels you would not normally expect to consume.
I would say you need to wait until long term studies are completed.
What about “Detox Teas” and “Skinny” Tea for Weight Loss? The scary Laxative Action
Whenever you see a tea marketed as weight-loss you need to be careful. As this article has shown in our research, there is no magic tea you can simply drink and lose weight.
Worryingly, some seem to work due to laxative action rather than any meaningful change in the body’s metabolism. So always try to do your own research to check before you buy or try.
Here I will give some examples:
Teas like Senna and Cascara have powerful laxative action by increasing peristalsis of the colon, leading to diarrhea (Farinde, LiverTox, Baker). While it is true that a lack of fiber and poor diet can lead to poor bowel movements (which impact gut microbiota - which play a role in weight) and result in poor, incomplete elimination, sudden laxative action is not a solution.
It may cause a negligible amount of weight in the very short term, but using laxatives don’t rid you of the weight you want to lose. Technically, fat loss is what people are looking for. Sure, I would lose weight if I had an organ removed - but it wouldn't change my appearance or body composition!
Other concerns for laxative-action detox teas are:
- Dehydration: Laxatives cause diarrhea and frequent bowel movements leading to excessive fluid loss (Link).
- Loss of Electrolytes (Soleimani): When you lose fluid quickly, electrolyte minerals are flushed out, too. Loss of electrolytes can be dangerous as they are needed for things like blood pressure and heart rate regulation (Olivero).
- Bowel Tone: Laxatives can lead to a lazy colon by weakening the muscles and causing dependency. This can be reversed, but prevention is a better route (Watson).
Furthermore, weight loss due to laxative use is temporary, and one study of bulimics struggling with their condition, and using laxatives, found that laxative use specifically for weight loss was ineffective (Lacey). Weight loss through laxative use is purely water-weight (Link).
It is my professional opinion that teas marketed for weight loss, which use laxative action, are dangerous and misleading, and should be avoided completely.
A Note From the Herbalist
In terms of fat weight loss and teas that work for it, it's important to pay attention to the research. From the molecular impacts of green tea on fat metabolism and appetite control, to the simple mechanistic actions of herbal teas (filling you up as or before you eat), I want to stress the importance of proper diet, exercise, and patience.
Many people want to lose fat weight fast, but they often forget that the fat weight gain didn’t happen overnight either.
Habits and other factors over time lead to weight/fat gain and such consideration should go into their desired healthy diet. Slow and steady wins the race, meanwhile hasty diets and severe restriction often lead to more weight gain post intervention (Lowe).
Furthermore, when considering the greater weight loss benefits in eastern green tea studies compared to western ones, it is not far-fetched to pay attention to the life-style differences.
Green tea consumption is correlated with health benefits in many ways but nothing earth shattering instantly or by itself from my research.
Meanwhile green tea extracts could possibly cause liver damage due to the high dose of EGCG. While benefits were noted as being dose dependent, this can easily be applied to tea consumption.
Also, processed and pre-bottled teas are quite low in antioxidants such as ECGC (which degrade over time) and will likely have little benefit compared to high quality teas you brew yourself too.
So, with all this in mind, enjoy your tea as part of a healthy, balanced diet - but don't expect miracles!
Read more about antioxidants in tea & what they do:
➔ Part 1: What Are Antioxidants and How Do They Work?
➔ Part 2: All About Antioxidants: Q&A with the Herbalist
➔ Part 3: How Are Antioxidants Measured? ORAC Scores and How Much You Need Per Day
➔ Part 4: Busting the Matcha Myth: Does matcha really have 137 times more antioxidants (EGCG) than green tea?
➔ Part 5: Antioxidants in Green vs Black Teas: What's the Difference?
➔ Part 6: Antioxidants in Rooibos, Honeybush & Chamomile: What Do They Actually Do?
➔ Part 7: Antioxidant Benefits of Yerba Mate, Moringa, & Tulsi
➔ Part 8: Most Common Antioxidants in Green Tea
➔ Part 9: Purple Powerhouse: Antioxidants in Purple Tea & Their Health Benefits
References & Further Reading for Tea & Weight Loss
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West, H. 2019. Healthline. Magnesium Supplements: Benefits, Side Effects, and Dosage. https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/magnesium-for-weight-loss#Does-magnesium-help-with-weight-loss?-
Schwarcz, J. 2018. McGill University. You're Full of Crap. Literally. https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/health/youre-full-crap-literally
Goldman, R. 2017. Healthline. How to Use Magnesium Supplements for Weight Loss. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/magnesium-supplements#benefits
Naderi Nabi, B., Sedighinejad, A., Haghighi, M., Farzi, F., Rimaz, S., Atrkarroushan, Z., & Biazar, G. (2018). The Anti-Obesity Effects of Green Tea: A Controlled, Randomized, Clinical Trial. Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, 20(1). https://doi.org/10.5812/ircmj.55950 from https://www.gums.ac.ir/Upload/Modules/Articels/22080/3971/1786.pdf
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