Toxic Tea Party

I’ve written about the health benefits of green tea, and I’ve personally enjoyed at least one cup of tea daily for many years. I buy organic, high quality products  so I thought I was safe from heavy metals an other toxic chemicals.  It turns out I was wrong! 

I got a phone call from a friend who had been mixing his own chai with organic herbs and black tea. He was drinking a lot of it, and started feeling sick with brain fog, muscle weakness, insomnia and fatigue. He said his symptoms went away when he stopped drinking it. I wasn’t sure that it was the tea causing his symptoms, and thought maybe it was Lymes disease, thyroid imbalance, adrenal fatigue, other environmental toxins, or something else. So, I started doing some research on the potential toxicity of our tea supply. 

I was surprised to find out that all black, green, white, and oolong teas, organic or not, have been tested to contain significant amounts of contamination by toxins and heavy metals-namely lead, flouride, and aluminum. Some even had levels that are considered by the FDA to be unsafe for human consumption in just one cup of brewed tea.

In one study, all 30 teas tested contained dangerous amounts of levels of lead for pregnant and lactating women. (1) 

The cheaper teas such as Lipton, Allegro, Celestial Seasonings, Tazo, Teavana, Bigelow, Republic of Tea, Twinings, Yogi, Tea Forte, Mighty Leaf, Trader Joe’s, and Tetley contained dangerous levels of synthetic flouride and pesticides. Toxic amounts of synthetic flouride, a pesticide byproduct, can cause bone fractures, thyroid disorders, tooth, and kidney problems, impaired brain development and function, and cancer. It accumulates over time and can sit in your body for years before causing health issues. (2)

Flouride accumulates in the tea plant as it grows, and the older and smaller leaves contain the highest levels. This is the cheaper tea found in teabags. Higher quality tea is usually sold as loose leaf tea and costs more, but in general has less toxic load. But even those teas that claim to be organic and pesticide-free have been found to contain known carcinogens in quantities exceeding FDA guidelines. 

There are no current guidelines for routine testing or reporting of toxins found in naturally occurring products. Some companies do independently test their products like my Chinese herb supplier Mayway. So, if you still want to drink tea, I’d recommend finding the highest quality product available, and not overdoing it. As with all things, listen to your  body and intuition. Whether you’re a tea drinker or not, pesticide residue is an issue that affects us all, and threatens both our global and local food supplies.

Personally I’ve cut my tea habit to once a week, and have replaced it with brews made from nourishing herbs from my backyard and local growers- my current favorites are nettles, red clover, dandelion leaf, bee balm, lemon balm, skullcap, tulsi, and mint. If you’re not a gardener or forager, these are available at the Brattleboro and Putney Food Co-ops too or at various online suppliers including Place a few of your favorites in a glass jar, fill with hot water, cover and let sit for at least 20 minutes. Strain and enjoy. 

In nature, a poisonous plant will grow in close proximity to its antidote. For example, poison ivy gives you a skin rash, but it usually grows next to jewelweed which prevents the rash.  I wonder if this is still true, if the remedies for our toxic overload are right under our noses?

See my next article about Decontaminating Heavy Metals coming soon.


  1. The Benefits and Risks of Consuming Brewed Tea: Beware of Toxic Element Contamination by Gerry Schwalfenberg, Stephen J. Genuis, and Ilia Rodushkin. 9/2013. Journal of Toxicology Volume 2013, Article ID 370460,

  2. Toole, Michelle. Warning:Shocking toxic chemicals found in teas.

  3. Alexa Erikson, Popular Tea Brands found to contain illegal amounts of harmful toxins. 9/2016.

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