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Q & A on Tea and Fluoride

A fellow blogger, Meagan, foodie and author of Mutritious Nuffins blog, who was following last weeks series on fluoride, sent me this question from one of her readers. I asked the authors of last weeks series, Sylvia Onusic, and Alice Terpstra, plus a new sponsor of realfoodmedia.com to help me address this issue.

And the pot is a cup too...
Creative Commons License photo credit: Frerieke

Q:

I was reading on Crunchy Chewy Mama blog about fluoridated water (which I have tried to avoid since my pregnancy) and clicked over to this article that mentions fluoride is also a problem in tea due to the large amount of water (usually fluoridated) that is used to irrigate the tea leaves. I’m a big tea drinker, and I’m wondering what your thoughts are on this issue and if you know of any way to ensure that the tea leaves we buy are fluoride-free or at least don’t have such concentrated amounts.

–Heather Carreiro, Expat Heather blog

Answer From Sylvia Onusic, PhD

A: According to a botantist I consulted, and numerous articles—

The tea plant naturally takes in fluoride from the soil. It is one of the few plants that contains a significant amount of natural fluoride. That includes green and white teas. If avoiding fluoride or pregnant, it is recommended to drink only herbal teas. Rooibos tea, however, does contain fluoride. It is also recommended to avoid drinking large quantities of ice tea mixes. Brewing tea in fluoridated water will increase the fluoride burden.

A: from Nickole Wells, Owner, Savvy Herbs and Teas

Hi, Kimberly, we also avoid fluoride especially after reading The Fluoride Deception, which was a fantastic eye-opening book. We use fluoride filters in our water, non-fluoride toothpaste, and go to a dentist that does not use fluoride unless requested. There are still going to be source of fluoride that we cannot avoid, so we try the best we can to limit the sources. As for tea, the higher quality teas have been shown in studies to have significantly less fluoride than lower quality teas. The article you linked to (love WAP sources of course still…) mentioned tea bags which is significant since tea bags are of the lowest quality tea, the leftover “tea dust” from manufacturing. The loose teas, that we sell, are the high quality teas. Also, white tea in particular will have a lower amount of residual fluoride since it has been processed less. I feel comfortable drinking them for that reason. Plus I make my tea with non-fluoridated water. I hope this helps!

A: from Aliss Terpstra

Nickole is correct – when the tea is top quality, loose rather than bag or brick, white or very good green, grown in rural Japan rather than on a hillside facing the winds carrying industrial air pollution in China or India (not sure about Indonesian or other teas) it is lower in fluoride. Matcha (the bright green powder tea of Japan that can cost fifty bucks an ounce) is often quite low in fluoride. (I can actually drink a little cup of one of the available brands with no symptoms!) Cheap orange pekoe or breakfast black is usually very high. I get thyroid suppression symptoms from half a cup of that.

The fluoride amount in tea is not always the issue. It is how well your body copes with a little surge in fluoride intake from that cuppa, and whether the surge is offset by natural things in tea or natural reserves in your body tissues. Mine can’t cope at all because cumulative intake crossed the threshold beyond homeostatic mitigation regardless of antioxidants or calcium from added milk. I get symptoms almost immediately. But that does not mean that all tea is horrible for everyone. It isn’t. Hypersensitive and poisoned people cannot usually tolerate any beverage with more fluoride than 0.2 mg/L.

Short brewing, using water that has come off the boil for five minutes (lower temp) and straining out the leaves right away reduces the fluoride. With green and white teas, the antioxidants and phenols offset the oxidative stress produced by fluoride. Chai (black tea made with milk, clove and other powerful antioxidant spices) is another tea drink with benefits that offset fluoride toxicity.

Rooibos tea is a bit lower in fluoride than camellia sinensis but the same cautions apply. I lost my ability to tolerate Rooibos too.

So if you’re not hypersensitive or poisoned, I’d say enjoy high quality green and white tea, Rooibos, or even high quality organic black tea, because of its antioxidant-anticancer benefits and don’t worry about getting a bit of fluoride from it. After all, it’s not fluoride with traces of arsenic, lead, cadmium and hexavalent chromium from the hazardous factory scrubber waste fluorosilic acid they put in our drinking water here.

I sorely miss Earl Grey with that hint of bergamot and the Rooibos with its vanilla sweetness. But in my case the suffering just isn’t worth it.

Sylvia is food writer, nutritionist and activist who holds a PhD from Penn State University.

Nickole Wells, is the owner of Savvy Teas and Herbs, an online retailer of bulk medicinal herbs and tea, and a new sponsor of the real food media blogs. To try her product, click on her ad on my resources page to visit her website.

Aliss Terpstra was subject to toxic levels of fluoride in her drinking water as a child. Her story was chronicled in a four part series on this blog last week: Meet a Fluoride Poisoning Survivor. Today, she is a nutritionist (CNP) and member of Weston A. Price Foundation in Toronto teaching clients how to find real food, prepare it and eat it to improve health.

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Comments

  1. Cody Holmes says:

    Sylvia, what are the symptoms you are referring to from drinking tea?

  2. I read one of the posts above where a fluoride filter was mentioned. Can you recommend a good water filter that removes fluoride? I’ve have difficulty finding one. Thanks!

  3. Cody,

    Fluoride ingestion has been related to fatigue, gastro esphogeal reflux, other digestive upsets,nausea, loss of appetite, headache, skin problems, depression, hypoactivity in adults (hyperactivity in children) and other issues. Some people experiences allergic-like symptoms, while for others, accumulation over years contributes to the development of skeletal fluorosis, hip fracture, gastritis, hypothyroidism or other conditions. Fluoride affects persons of all ages, including infants and children.

    Avoidance of fluoride is a good policy for improving health but involves educating oneself about sources of fluoride besides the obvious ones. I was surprised to hear that fluoride is the substance used in the air fresheners we so commonly place around the house.

    I would also ask Aliss to comment because she has a lifetime of personal experience linking fluoride to signs and symptoms related to her health.

  4. Thanks for the help, Kim 🙂 and other contributors!!

  5. When you eat wholefoods there are a million phytochemicals, vitamins and nutrients. I’ve seen people drink so many juiced carrots that their skin actually turned orange. People can worry too much about food and become extremists. When I see so many articles and opinions being passed around about naturally occurring substances like fluoride I can’t help but think the focus is shifting away from more important food issues. We don’t want to scare people into avoiding water and herbal tea. When you start to get into the minutia of how much fluoride there is in green vs. rooibos tea—it becomes extreme. I think we should teach people to embrace healthy foods and not worry over the tiny things (there are plenty of bigger things to worry about). People can start to have food phobias when the talk goes this deep. Water and tea are extremely health beneficial and there is nothing better for us all to drink.

  6. Thanks so much Meagan, Kimberly and everyone who contributed to the answers! I drank fluoridated water growing up and until I moved abroad after college. My teeth are discolored and I have signs of fluorsosis, which my dentist in Pakistan confirmed when I was getting my regular treatments there. I’ve had lots of cavities my whole life (I get 2-4 per year in my back teeth no matter what I try), while my husband, who grew up in the Azores without fluoridated water (and without going regularly to the dentist), has had no cavities and every time he goes for a cleaning he’s told he has perfect, strong teeth.

    Since I got pregnant, we’ve become more aware of the dangers of fluoride and fluoride poisoning, and especially since I’ve already had a lot of exposure we’ve been trying to avoid it by drinking and cooking only with non-fluoridated water. Now it’s time to rethink how we do tea and what we buy…thanks for all the tips!

  7. @Pam – I read on CrunchyChewyMama.com about the Doulton under-the-counter filter. It has a separate chamber for filtering out fluoride. At our apartment we use 5-gallon BPA-free jugs that we fill up with fluoride-free water at a water filling station, although we’d like to get a filter in the future if we ever settle in one place long enough!

  8. Do you think that taking an Iodoral (iodine) tablet before having a cup of tea will prevent the fluoride from attaching to the iodine receptors (or something like that). Hoping so! thanks.

  9. hey Aliss (or to anyone out there that can answer me)
    ,
    Great post. I just have a few questions. You said that (speaking of purely higher quality) matcha usually doesn’t have a high fluoride content… I have spent a good amount of time trying to find some credible evidence proving that to no avail. Can you point me to any evidence?

    Also you say that you get symptoms of thyroid suppression. I know that fluoride does that and a while back I was going through a period where I was drinking wayyy too much California red wine… around 3-8 glasses on a usual day, I guess. Turns out that red wine has a lot of fluoride (with, from what I can tell from research, CA wines having the most). I was noticing that the open-side tips of my fingers would become wrinkled much like when you get out of the bath. I did some research and came to the conclusion that I had hypothyroidism (not knowing that it could be the fluoride causing it). I didn’t have insurance (thank god because they likely would’ve tried to swindle me into taking some drug that I didn’t need) so I just avoided the problem for a long time. Eventually I started to limit my red wine intake to only a glass or two. I haven’t had the wrinkles since, as far as I can remember, when I was drinking red wine heavily. It couldn’t have been a side-effect from the alcohol either because I’ve experimented heavily with other drinks and have never seen my fingertips wrinkle. What do you make of this? Do you suppose that it could have been the fluoride content? If so, does that mean that I might be more sensitive to fluoride than others or do you suppose that anyone might have had the same thing happen with a similar amount of red wine consumption?

    And one more question- You say that high quality teas have antioxidant contents which offset the negative effects of fluoride but I don’t understand how that works. Doesn’t fluoride still go to your bones and brain and cause damage regardless of what it’s swallowed with? I know that Boron (Borax) offsets the negative effects of fluoride and flushes it from your system but haven’t heard of antioxidants doing that.

    Thanks so much!

  10. Anonymous says:

    This is a great topic.  Thank you for sharing.  Fluoride has many dangers.  Fluoride was used as an insecticide and rat poison. It is a pollutant and a by-product of iron, copper and aluminum manufacturing.

  11. The Journal of Dental Research, Special Issue, International Symposium on Fluorides, Feb, 1990, in Posters page 826-7 addressed this question:
    “Poster #7, Effect of Co-admistration of Fluoride and Methylxanthine-containing Beverages on Plasma Fluoride Levels in Rats.  “Co-administration of fluoride and tea or Coca-Cola resulted in a significantly higher plasma fluoride level than intake of the same amount  of fluoride in decaffeinated beverages. Approximately a two-fold difference in bioavailability was demonstrated by comparison of thetotal areas under the curves.”

     Sure sounds like Hyperactivity to me!  Anita

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