If you’ve recently clicked to buy green tea from uncertain origins, please read this important warning. (Photo: Getty Images)
A teenage girl in the U.K. who drank green tea in an attempt to lose weight ended up in the hospital — with acute hepatitis.
The girl’s story is the subject of a surprising new case study published in the journal BMJ Case Reports.
The study details how the 16-year-old girl (who has not been identified), went to her doctor after experiencing nausea, joint pain, and abdominal pain. Her doctor thought she had a urinary tract infection and prescribed antibiotics. But the teenager became jaundiced and her symptoms became worse.
She landed in the ER, where she told doctors that she had ordered Chinese green tea online and had been drinking more than three cups a day for three months in an attempt to lose weight.
“I had only lost a couple of pounds but then started having horrible pains in my joints, and felt very dizzy and sick,” she said, per the study. “I was very scared when I was admitted to [the] hospital and had lots of tests. I didn’t fully understand what was going on at the time.”
Looking back, the teenager says her ailments were “definitely” due to the tea. “I will never buy any online tea again,” she said.
The study calls her case a “rare yet recurring theme,” citing other cases of hepatotoxicity (i.e. liver damage) from green tea.
But green tea has been praised as a healthy drink, largely due to its antioxidant properties.
What’s going on here?
The problem isn’t necessarily the green tea itself, it’s what could be added to it, Mike Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, tells Yahoo Health.
“When you’re buying products from another country, there may be an issue with food safety,” he says. Among other potential problems, he says: Pesticides, which are regulated differently (and potentially more loosely) in other countries.
The study’s researchers had the same theory, writing: “There is potential for pesticide-induced hepatitis to exist, especially from less regulated products ordered from developing countries over the Internet.”
Green tea is generally considered a healthy beverage, but New York City registered dietitian Jessica Cording tells Yahoo Health that, like anything, too much of it can create health problems.
Cording has seen similar cases that link green tea to liver damage a few times in her clinical practice, but says it’s more likely to occur with high-dose green tea supplements. “If you’re drinking a few cups of green tea a day, where you’re brewing one tea bag or a more moderate amount in the context of eating and drinking other things, it’s usually safe,” she says.
Certified dietitian-nutritionist Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CEO of NY Nutrition Group, agrees. “Fresh brewed green tea can be one of the healthiest beverages you can drink with a rich source of antioxidant catechins, which help fight, and even protect against, cell damage,” she tells Yahoo Health. “However, once it’s concentrated or mixed with other additives as a weight loss supplement, that’s when the risks or problems commence.”
Moskovitz says it’s best to avoid buying green tea in powdered form, since it can be easily mixed with other substances or concentrated to levels that can become toxic.
If pesticides are a concern, Cording recommends looking for the USDA certified organic label on the box.
And finally, be wary of the food products you buy online — especially when you’re not familiar with the source. “Buy from reputable companies,” says Doyle. “If you buy off the Internet, you’re rolling the dice.”
Worth noting: The girl stopped drinking the green tea and made a full recovery after receiving IV fluids and medication.
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