How Healthy Is Healthy Food?

April 3, 2013
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heath regulationsIt may be that defining a “healthy food” is more about fashion than fact. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg cited the adverse health consequences of excess soft drink consumption in his ban on super-sized soft drinks, but why isn’t he also protecting his population from tea?

heath regulationsIt may be that defining a “healthy food” is more about fashion than fact. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg cited the adverse health consequences of excess soft drink consumption in his ban on super-sized soft drinks, but why isn’t he also protecting his population from tea?

There are a small number of published case reports about the illness caused by the abnormally low potassium levels that result from extreme cola consumption. One man, age 52 with BMI of about 30, consumed 4 liters of cola per day over several years. The cure for this problem is straightforward. Stop drinking so much and potassium levels normalize.

But there are also case reports showing that tea, a currently fashionable health food, can be even more dangerous.

A case report in the New England Journal of Medicine described a 47-year-old woman who said that for the last 17 years she had habitually consumed a pitcher of tea made from 100 to 150 tea bags daily. She had a 5-year history of pain in her lower back, arms, legs, and hips. All of her teeth had been extracted because of brittleness. Her forearm and spine x-rays were abnormal. Her serum fluoride concentration was 23 μmol per liter. The normal concentration is less than 5 μmol per liter.

She had skeletal fluorosis. Turns out that brewed tea has contains fluoride. Drink enough, or combine tea drinking with fluoride toothpaste swallowing, or excessively fluoridated water, and bone strength decreases while bone density increases. The Mayo Clinic reported 4 cases between 1997 and 2006. Emory reported a case in 2011, Washington University reported a case in 2008.

Despite the obvious problems with excess tea consumption, The Harvard School of Public Health Healthy Beverage Guidelines instructs readers that water is the only beverage that is “healthier” than tea and coffee. Its devotion to water leads it to conclude that it would be better to drink beer (caloric beverages with some nutrients) than cola, which it calls a “calorically sweetened beverage without nutrients.”

(image: healthy tea / shutterstock)