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Plastic and Cancerous Compounds in Tea Bags

Plastic and Cancerous Compounds in Tea Bags—A Surprising Source of Potential Toxins

I’ve long advocated drinking tea in lieu of coffee, but the downside of modern food technology is again rearing its ugly head and causing brand new health concerns over this otherwise healthful brew.

A recent article in The Atlantic1 raises questions about the safety of plastic tea bags, some of which have fancy pyramid shapes, designed to allow the tea leaves to unfurl during infusion. Chances are you’ve never even given the tea bag a second thought, but indeed, some of the newer tea bags are made with a variety of plastics.  Some teabags are nylon, some are made of viscose rayon, and others are made of thermoplastic, PVC or polypropylene. Anyone aware of the dangers of plastic chemicals leaching out of plastic containers and bottles is likely to be concerned about drinking tea steeped through heated plastic.

The other bad news is that paper tea bags may be just as bad, or worse, than the plastic ones because many of them are treated with epichlorohydrin, a compound mainly used in the production of epoxy resins.  Considered a potential carcinogen by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health2 (NIOSH), epichlorohydrin is also used as a pesticide. Besides making its way into tea bags, it can also be found in coffee filters, water filters, and sausage casings.  When epichlorohydrin comes in contact with water, it hydrolyzes to 3-MCPD, which has been shown to cause cancer in animals. It’s also been implicated in infertility (it has a spermatoxic effect in male rats3) and suppressed immune function4.

This chemical is already a well-known “process contaminant” associated with modern food production. According to the American Oil Chemicals Society5 (AOCS), 3-MCPD can also be found in variable levels in refined vegetable oils, which is yet another reason to avoid such cooking oils and replace them with organic coconut oil.

My recommendation to my patients is to purchase loose tea leaves from organic or natural sources.  It’s hard to imagine that companies like Lipton and Celestial Seasonings can buy tea from all over the world from different tea stocks and magically get the tea to taste the same way consistently without chemical enhancement.  I suggest staying away from these pollutants and consuming natural sources of tea in which you can reap the benefits of the phytochemicals and antioxidants found naturally in nature.  It’s yet another small step you can take to a healthier and happier lifestyle.

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