Pesticides in Tea: Should You Be Worried?

Tea, especially green and white tea, is so full of health benefits. It’s a rich source of antioxidants called polyphenols that help to protect cells against free-radical damage. A number of preliminary studies show that drinking tea regularly may lower the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer.

But there’s another issue you don’t hear as much about - pesticides in tea. We’re exposed to so many pollutants and toxins already – from the environment and from the food we eat. Should you worry about tea pesticides too?

Tea Pesticides: What’s in the Tea You’re Drinking?

A study published by Greenpeace showed unacceptably high levels of pesticides in some teas grown in China, the world’s biggest tea producer. They took samples from nine different tea companies that got their tea from China. Of the eighteen samples they took, they found pesticide residues in all of them. Some of these pesticides were ones that are banned in China and other parts of the world because they’re linked with health problems like infertility.

There’s a lot of industrial pollution in China too and that can end up in the soil. This increases the chance that your tea will be tainted with heavy metals. Pretty disturbing, huh? Especially when you drink tea for its health benefits. Here’s a link to that study:

Greenpeace Report

In the past, we’ve purchased tea from a store called Teavana that was recently purchased by Starbucks. Back in 2011, independent, third-party testing found pesticides in every sample of Teavana tea they tested including one called endosulfan, a chemical banned in the United States, Europe and more than 100 other countries due to its link with fertility problems.

In all fairness, there are some reasons to question this report since the person who did the testing was “short” Teavana in the stock market, meaning they stood to benefit financially if the stock went down. Teavana refuted the claims but never published reports of their own independent testing. We love the taste of some of Teavana’s teas, especially Sweet Asian Pear, but will no longer drink it until they’re willing to publish results of third party testing showing they’re safe. Here’s a link to that report:

Glaucus Research on Teavana

Another popular tea you see at grocery stores may also be harboring tea pesticides in their tea bags. Independent testing of Celestial Teas revealed a surprise – more than 90% of the samples they tested had pesticide residues that EXCEEDED what the FDA allows.

Some of these pesticides are known carcinogens. Celestial Seasonings responded by sending some of their teas for independent testing and claims none were found but it still raises questions in our mind. Keep in mind that neither Celestial Seasoning nor Teavana teas are organic.

What about the Tea Bags?

The tea bags that tea comes in are also a concern. Paper tea bags are treated with a chemical called epichlorohydrin. Epichlorohydrin forms 3-MCPD, a probable human carcinogen, when it comes in contact with water. Epichlorohydrin is also used to coat paper coffee filters. Even if the contents of your tea bag are organic, you may still be absorbing epichlorohydrin from the tea bag. We’ve always brewed loose leaf tea so have avoided that issue.

How to Get the Health Benefits of Tea without the Risks

Should you give up tea entirely? We still drink tea but have switched to certified organic tea from this company.  We chose them because they’re accredited by the USDA National Organic Program and will send you a copy of their certification. Most of their teas are fair-trade certified as well. Having investigated, we feel comfortable with the teas they offer and their level of integrity. You may have a local supplier of organic tea you’re comfortable with. Here are some recommendations for avoiding exposure to tea pesticides:

Buy loose-leaf tea so you don’t have to worry about toxins from the bag when you steep it. Even the sachets that some teas come in are made of a form of nylon or plastic. It’s not a good idea to expose any sort of plastic to heat. We use stainless steel pitchers to brew loose-leaf tea at home. Here’s what we do:

Place the loose leaf tea leaves in the bottom of stainless steel pitcher. After heating up the water in a stainless steel pan on the stove, we pour the water over the leaves in the pitcher to let them steep.

Once the leaves have steeped long enough, we pour the tea and leaf mixture through a metal mesh strainer into the second stainless steel container and discard the leaves held back by the strainer. We steep the leaves twice or even three times.

Other Tips

Avoid drinking iced tea in restaurants. They usually use the most inexpensive, non-organic tea and are more likely to be tainted with tea pesticides.

If you carry tea with you when you travel or work out, store it in a stainless steel container without a plastic lining or coating of any type so you don’t have to worry about plastic leeching into the tea.

Another way to get the benefits of the antioxidants in green tea is to take a green tea supplement. Green tea supplements contain antioxidant polyphenols in a purified form. Buy from a reputable manufacturer. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, you can buy decaffeinated green tea supplements that won’t make you jittery.

Enjoy tea, but drink water too, preferably purified water that’s been filtered of contaminants.

The Bottom Line?

You’re probably asking the same question we are. Why do even things that are good for us have to have a dark side? It’s frustrating! The good news? You can still enjoy the benefits of tea by buying certified organic tea from a reputable supplier in a loose leaf form. We don’t want to discourage you from drinking tea. If it’s free of pesticides – it’s good for you! We continue to drink tea ourselves but are much more conscious about buying it organic.

Other Tea Articles:

Drinking Green Tea versus Taking a Green Tea Supplement: Which is Better?

References:

Intergrated Risk Information System. “Epichlorohydrin”
Glaucus Research Group. “Teavana Holdings Incorporated.
Government of Canada: Screening Test for Epichlorohydrin”

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About Dr. Kristie

Dr. Kristie Leong and Dr. Apollo Leong are physicians helping you to lead a healthy lifestyle by sharing nutrition and fitness tips and keeping you abreast of the latest health news.
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