Dangerous tea WARNING: Exposing the health risks of conventional and organic varieties
(Naturalhealth365) For millions of people around the globe, sipping a steaming cup of freshly-brewed tea is a relaxing and beneficial ritual. For example, loaded with flavonoids and polyphenols, black, green and herbal teas are known to offer important health benefits. Yet, shocking laboratory research has revealed that your trusty “cuppa tea” might not be so healthy after all.
The startling fact is that commercially produced tea can harbor not one, not two, but three hidden health threats. Today, we’ll focus on ways to minimize your risk of exposure to contaminants and pollutants in tea – and get back to safely enjoying that soothing cup.
Shocking ALERT: 50 percent of tested teas contain illegal levels of dangerous pesticides
In an investigation conducted by Canadian company CBC News, various commercial teas from major companies were tested for levels of pesticide residue. The scientists found that over half of the tested teas had pesticide levels above the legally acceptable limit.
And, eight out of the ten teas – which included black, green, oolong and herbal varieties – contained multiple chemicals. One brand, Uncle Lee’s Legend of China, contained a stunning assortment of 22 different pesticides. Of these, six were found in amounts that exceeded the legally acceptable daily limit.
And Uncle Lee’s was far from the only culprit. Tetley’s Green Tea contained residues of 16 different pesticides, with three of them in amounts over the legally acceptable limit. Other brands found to contain pesticide residue included Lipton’s and Twining teas.
Herbal teas are not off the hook either.
For example, while Celestial Seasonings’ “Sleepytime Kids Goodnight Grape” certainly sounds perfectly benign, an additional study revealed that it contained propachlor – a known carcinogen. In separate tests conducted by Glaucus Research, scientists found that a startling 91 percent of Celestial Seasonings teas tested – including such wholesome-sounding blends as Peach Blossom and Green Tea Raspberry Gardens – had pesticide levels exceeding the US limits.
How is this possible?
Experts report that while many of the pesticides found in the teas have been banned in the United States, Canada and elsewhere, these chemicals can persist in the soil for years – and may still appear in tea. Adding to the problem is the fact that some toxic pesticides are still in use in China – which is a primary exporter of black and green tea.
By the way, other major international tea suppliers include India and Argentina.
Horrific “hit parade” – teas may feature a wide array of toxins
Uncle Lee’s Legend of China tea (probably the worst offender tested) contained endosulfan, a chlorinated pesticide chemically similar to DDT – a dangerous insecticide banned almost five decades ago. Currently outlawed in 80 countries, endosulfan is considered one of the most toxic pesticides.
The investigators found a slew of other toxins in the teas – all of which can spell trouble for humans and the environment. Acetamaprid, a neonicotinoid insectide, may affect the developing human brain. In addition, it is associated with declines in the health of bee colonies.
Bifenthrin, classified as a “possible human carcinogen” by the EPA, is highly toxic to fish and lethal to bees. Carbendazim – a fungicide banned in the US, but still used in China and India – is a potent endocrine disruptor that has been linked in animal studies to adverse effects on the male reproductive system.
Monocrotophos, an organophosphate insecticide, has been banned in the US for its acute toxicity. Yet it is still in use in India – a source of tea for several major companies.
According to noted environmental lawyer David Boyd, the test results are “very worrisome.” Boyd added that the excessive pesticide levels signaled “very poor agricultural practices in various countries,” and warned of risks to consumers, agricultural workers and the environment.
Tea companies insist: “Nothing to see here…”
Unsurprisingly, the companies insist their teas are safe.
In a response to the test results, Celestial Seasonings claims that the National Food Lab has tested their teas and reaffirmed that they are “safe” and that they follow “strict industry guidelines.” The company maintains that they reject ingredients when substances are detected beyond acceptable limits.
However, natural health experts point out that “acceptable limit” does not necessarily mean “safe.”
The Environmental Working Group – a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering people to live healthier lives – points out that the EPA’s tolerance levels do not reflect newer research on pesticide dangers – and are too lenient to protect public health.
In one (particularly infuriating) response, an executive from Uncle Lee’s Legends of China appeared to shrug off the study completely. Pesticides, he declared, are a “reality” of the tea industry.
Unfortunately, pesticides are not the only contaminants lurking in tea.
Pregnancy risk: Over 70 percent of brewed teas contained dangerous amounts of lead and aluminum
Teas can also contain contaminants – including lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and aluminum.
These heavy metals are endocrine disruptors and carcinogens that can contribute to mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress.
In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Toxicology, scientists performed toxic element testing on common black, green, white and oolong teas. The team analyzed the teas after three to four minutes of steeping – then again after 15 to 17 minutes.
All of the brewed teas were found to contain lead, with higher levels associated with longer steeping times. And 73 percent of those brewed for three minutes had lead levels that are considered unsafe for consumption during pregnancy and lactation.
When the steeping time was lengthened to 15 minutes, the picture was even more worrisome.
Fully 83 percent had amounts that exceeded 5 ugm – the daily limit for reproductive health – prompting the researchers to advise that consumption of tea be severely limited during pregnancy. In addition, 20 percent of the teas tested positive for aluminum levels above recommended guidelines.
Surprisingly, the organic teas fared no better.
In fact, two of the organic green teas were particularly high in aluminum after being brewed for 15 minutes.
The scientists speculated that the heavy metal contaminants were related to the use of coal-burning power plants, which supply China with 70 percent of its energy. They called for industry regulation and original source labeling to provide information about the teas’ geographic origins.
In addition, they cautioned that steeping tea for more than three minutes is “not advisable” – and warned that drinking more than four cups a day of tea may contribute significantly to toxic load.
Health WARNING: Toxic tea bags release microplastics and chemicals
In yet another study, published in Environmental Science and Technology, Canadian researchers found that steeping a plastic (nylon and terephthalate) tea bag at normal brewing temperature of 95 degrees released over 11 billion microplastics per cup.
Defined as tiny particles less than 5 millimeters long, microplastics can be devastating to aquatic life – with possible serious consequences for humans as well.
And, the problems don’t end there. Even teabags – at first glance, an inoffensive paper product – may be rife with chemicals. For example, many companies use bleached tea bags – which can contain a pesticide known as epichlorohydrin.
When it comes to tea preparation, it’s probably wise to “bag” the teabag, and brew your beverage the “old-fashioned way” – using a strainer or slotted spoon.
Brew a safer cup of tea with common-sense techniques
You can minimize exposure to contaminants by using a three-prong strategy. Opt for loose-leaf tea that has been certified organic, check ingredients and geographical sourcing carefully, and avoid steeping tea for more than three minutes.
Many natural health experts give high marks to Choice Organic Teas, Mountain Rose Herbs Loose Leaf Tea, Coastal Roots Apothecary and Red Rose Orange Pekoe for being free of pesticides.
And, if you must use tea bags, make sure they are unbleached, organic and plastic-free. Of course, you can always go the DIY route and cultivate your own plants for herbal teas.
Good candidates for a fragrant and attractive herb tea garden include lemon verbena, mint – notoriously easy to grow – chamomile, hibiscus, lavender and jasmine. If your climate allows, you can also grow Camellia sinensis, the “original” tea plant.
This way, you’ll be able to enjoy a cup of homegrown tea – without worrying that you’re getting a hefty dose of endosulfan or carbendazim on the side.
Sources for this article include: