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.