Many people drink tea solely for its health benefits. This popular beverage is known for being loaded with antioxidants that combat cancer and aging. Because of tea’s well known health benefits, you may be surprised to find out that many teas actually contain toxic metals. For example, lead can be absorbed by the tea’s leaves. You may be wondering how lead ever got into the tea in the first place. Well, industrial areas and active roadways can create environments with high lead that gets absorbed by the tea plant.
Keep reading to find out how other toxic heavy metals find their way into tea.
Many people consider green tea to be a miracle beverage thanks to its high concentration of polyphenols and other antioxidants. Studies have shown that drinking two to three cups of green tea a day may lower the risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. It’s highly promoted as a weight loss aid as well.
Most people would be hard-pressed to find fault with this popular beverage, but new research shows that certain green teas are actually contaminated with heavy metals. A recent ConsumerLab.com study found lead in a number of popular green tea brands, particularly those that hail from China. Most of the lead stays in the leaves, however, and does not necessarily get into the tea itself. Don’t chew the teas leaves if you are unsure of the country of origin of your tea, or at the very least use a tea bag or filter.(1)
Pu-erh, also sometimes referred to as red tea, has been in the spotlight recently for its supposed ability to promote weight loss and a healthy heart. This type of tea is fermented and aged under high humidity. It typically comes from the Yunnan province in China. Nevertheless, a study out of Beijing Normal University found alarming levels of arsenic in Pu-erh tea from China. Arsenic is an element that behaves like a metal which is toxic to various bodily organs. Consumers are therefore advised to avoid Pu-erh tea that stems from this specific geographic region.(2)
Black tea is more oxidized than green, white and oolong teas, and is one of the most common teas consumed throughout the world. Unfortunately, studies have found that brewed black tea contains cadmium, lead and arsenic. This is likely due to the use of coal-fired power plants in China, which are in the vicinity of tea plants. These coal plants provide 70 percent of China’s energy. The pollutants from the coal plants have been adversely affecting the development of Chinese children. Would you drink a tea if you knew it was grown in an environment ridden with deadly pollutants? Didn’t think so.(3)
White tea comes from the new growth buds and young leaves of the camellia sinensis plant. Since buds are picked early, the tea is less likely contaminated by aluminum. Consuming aluminum regularly can lead to pulmonary, neurological and skeletal problems. It’s still susceptible to contamination by other heavy metals, particular if it comes from China. Tea plants grown near industrial areas or highways can absorb lead from the environment, and this is particularly problematic in places like China.(1,3,4)
Oolong tea is made by withering the tea plant under the heat of the sun and then oxidizing it. This fragrant and delicate tea has a pleasant flavor, and many people see it as the perfect compromise between green and black tea because its leaves are just partially oxidized. This also helps keep its vulnerability to contamination down slightly. Nevertheless, as another derivation of the camellia sinensis plant, it is not immune to heavy metals entirely. In fact, a recent Canadian study found that Chinese oolong had some of the highest levels of arsenic, lead and cadmium compared to the other types of tea studied – namely organic and regular green tea, organic white tea, and organic and regular black tea.(5)
If you think that choosing organic tea will erase your possibility of imbibing heavy metals, think again. Organic tea is often a better choice than regular tea, but you should doesn’t mean it’s devoid of heavy metals. Even if the tea plants were not coated in pesticides, they could still be tainted by heavy metals in the water and soil. Organic tea from China and India is particularly vulnerable. Moreover, Canadian researchers found that the organic teas were no less contaminated by heavy metals than their counterparts, even when they came from the same company. Choosing organic is a good first step to a healthier life, but it’s not the end of the road.(3)
Chinese tea doesn’t necessarily qualify as Chinese medicine. Canadian researchers found that tea bags from China were more likely to be contaminated with heavy metals than other types of tea. Once again, pollutants from the environment are likely the source of heavy metals in Chinese tea. When you pollute the environment, you pollute your food sources. Due to the contamination of tea with heavy metals, it is recommended that pregnant women and young children be very careful about the types of tea they drink.(3)
Chai tea is black tea in disguise, brewed with aromatic Indian herbs and spices. Although it’s pleasing to the taste buds, the extra flavor doesn’t compensate for the toxins in Chai tea. A study of nearly 50 different types of tea from India found that 94 percent of them contained at least one pesticide. More than half the teas contained pesticides that were not approved for tea cultivation, and exceeded safety limits.(6)
This caffeine-free, polyphenol-rich tea is used to treat everything from allergies to aging. Unlike most other types of tea, rooibos comes from the South African red bush rather than the traditional tea plant. It’s a robust and hearty plant that flourishes in the jungle naturally, meaning pesticides are rarely needed. Rooibos tea from South Africa is typically a safe choice. However, rooibos from India should be consumed with caution because of the proliferation of heavy metals in all the teas cultivated in the country.(5)
Since the time of the pharaohs, people have turned to hibiscus tea for its soothing health benefits. However, a study from the Czech University Life Sciences Prague found so much aluminum in hibiscus that they advised babies, pregnant women, and people with kidney disorders to avoid drinking the tea entirely. They also discovered that the tea may harbor boron and other dangerous metals.(7,8)
Not all teas are created equal. As a mindful consumer, you ought to be aware of what you are consuming. In addition to avoiding certain teas, there are plenty of steps you can take get the most out of your tea. Be sure to brew the tea with a filter or tea bag. Try putting the tea in first and then adding boiling water. In addition, brew tea for only two or three minutes, since boiling it longer can increase the amount of contaminants. With these considerations in mind, you can free your tea of heavy metals.