Mark Twain once said, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” That may be true for whiskey, but apparently not for tea. A woman in Detroit, Michigan learned that lesson the hard way when she visited a doctor to determine the cause of the pain she’d been experiencing in her arms, legs, back and hips for five years — only to find out she’d done it to herself via a more than decade-long addiction to tea. For 17 years, the 47-year-old unnamed patient had made a daily ritual of drinking a large pitcher of tea made from 100 to 150 tea bags. Brewed tea, it turns out, has one of the highest levels of fluoride of any beverage available in the United States, and fluoride, it turns out, while good for your teeth in moderation, can damage your bones when ingested excessively. I think we can all agree this patient’s tea intake was “excessive.”
The bone disease caused by too much fluoride is called skeletal fluorosis, and while it’s very rare in the US, it’s common in developing countries like India and China that 1) have high levels of fluoride in their drinking water (due in part to the use of deeply dug wells), 2) consume large amounts of tea and 3) rely heavily on coal (which contains fluoride). Skeletal fluorosis attacks bones and joints, causing pain and in extreme cases, deformities. On the bright side, it can sometimes be reversible if fluoride intake is stopped, given fluoride is naturally excreted from the body in urine and bone can repair itself. In the Detroit woman’s case, the fluoride crystallized on her bone, causing increased spine density and calcification in her arm. Upon ceasing her tea habit, her symptoms improved, but doctors warn it can take years before skeletal fluoride is depleted.
And she has a lot of it to deplete. According to estimates, for the past 17 years, the patient’s intake of fluoride was more than 20 milligrams a day — about seven times the recommended daily allowance for an adult woman. When measured, the level in her blood was four times the normal amount, although at that point, it’s surprising her blood wasn’t 100% tea.
(Sources: Yahoo!, The New England Journal of Medicine, MedlinePlus)