Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

A Tea-Time Mystery

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

A Tea-Time Mystery

Article excerpt

When a 52-year-old Missouri woman approached physicians in 1998 complaining of stiffness and pain in her spine, the symptoms were at first attributed to "disc disease." But a series of laboratory tests showed that the woman had abnormally thick, dense bones and strikingly high levels of fluoride in her urine hallmarks of skeletal fluorosis, a disease that has been diagnosed only a handful of times in the United States.

The only way to develop skeletal fluorosis is to ingest or inhale too much fluoride. The woman's drinking water had only about 2.8 parts per million (ppm) fluoride, well below the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limit of 4.0 ppm. Other sources of fluoride were also eliminated: She didn't swallow her toothpaste, she didn't work with pesticides, and she didn't live near a mine. So where was she getting all the fluoride?

Then the woman revealed she had drunk up to two gallons of extra-strength instant tea every day of her adult life. Physician Michael Whyte of Washington University School of Medicine and his colleagues decided to measure the fluoride levels in her tea preparation.

They found that, counting the fluoride in her water, the woman was ingesting 37-74 milligrams of fluoride per day. EPA studies suggest that severe skeletal fluorosis could occur over the course of 20 years from a continuous exposure of 20 milligrams of fluoride per day.

Whyte and colleagues then tested 10 instant teas available in grocery stores. …

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