SPOILER ALERT: The Tea Industry Has a Dirty Little Secret...
Updated: Aug 11, 2022
Since your Interstitial Cystitis diagnosis, have you been told to swap out your coffee or caffeinated tea for an herbal tea? The experts of the IC community will recommend these as they can be gentler on your bladder than the alternative.
Herbal teas can be a great way to stay hydrated, calm your nerves, and soothe your bladder. They are thought to improve overall well-being and naturally cleanse the body.
But did you know that the majority of tea companies have a dirty little secret?
You know that white tea bag you pull out of the box? What if I told you it had to be bleached to achieve that color? What about that silky, pyramid shaped tea bag? It’s made with nylon, which is a form of plastic.
There are many chemicals and plastics that can be used in the production and packaging of teas. Chemicals such as dioxin and epichlorohydrin are commonly found in processed tea bags. When epichlorohydrin comes in contact with water, it can hydrolyze into a carcinogen. Other studies have shown that chemicals such as dioxin can remain in our bodies for up to 11 years.
In this blog post, I want to provide you with the facts about teas, the risks if you don’t do your research, and what brands have proven to be safe and reliable.
Potential health benefits of herbal teas:
Herbal teas contain a blend of herbs, spices, fruits, or other plants in addition to tea leaves. They do not contain caffeine, making them ideal for IC.
Herbal teas can work in various ways. First, we have anti-inflammatory herbs that work to reduce inflammation in the bladder wall. Next, we have muscle relaxants that can ease pelvic floor tension. There are also antidepressant-type herbs that can reduce inflammation and pain in the nerves of the bladder while calming you. It is important that you discuss dosage and preparation of herbs with a qualified health professional.
Let’s break a few of these down further:
Chamomile - can help reduce menstrual pain and muscle spasms. Can improve sleep, relaxation and stress.
Rooibos- said to improve blood pressure and circulation. Also supports healthy hair and skin.
Peppermint- contains menthol, which is thought to soothe an upset stomach and lessen symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome or motion sickness.
Ginger- helps prevent or decrease indigestion
Now, let’s dive into the different types of harmful chemicals, toxins, and plastics that can be hidden in your daily beverage.
Epichlorohydrin: a chlorinated epoxy compound that is used as an industrial solvent and pesticide. Companies will coat their tea bags in epichlorohydrin to improve it’s “wet strength”. This chemical is considered a strong irritant and potential carcinogen. It’s actually classified as a Group B2, or probable human carcinogen, by the EPA.
3-MCPD: a type of resin that also is added to tea bags to increase “wet strength”. 3-MCPD is considered carcinogenic and a genotoxin.
Chlorine bleach: when you see a white tea bag, it most likely has been bleached using chlorine. This process poses serious health risks in addition to being an environmental toxin. Oxygen can also be used to make tea bag fibers appear whiter.
Polyamide plastic: utilized in the stringless, unstapled tea bags that allow the paper to seal together using heat. Think about what’s going on with your tea when the boiling hot water hits the tea bag - it doesn’t sound good.
Wood pulp (cellulose): added to tea as well as many other products to cut costs and add fiber. The FDA allows this process to occur and generally regards it as safe. However, there is no word on how the wood has been treated prior to being processed into pulp. I’m skeptical.
I bet you’re thinking….Callie, what the HECK am I supposed to do with this information??
I’m not telling you this to scare you, I’m telling you this to make sure you do your research on tea brands.
Essentially, you have 3 options moving forward:
1) Keep on keeping on: Continue to purchase and drink tea that may contain dangerous chemicals and toxins. This could exacerbate your IC symptoms, but it also may not.
2) Read labels: When purchasing tea, look for a bleach-free tea bag, and also look for teas that aren’t heat-sealed or use binding agents. I like Buddha Teas - they are bleach-free, 100% Kosher, free of MSG and artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. They actually source their product in the US. You can always reach out to a brand of tea to inquire if they are using harmful ingredients and production methods. Feel free to even ask them to consider changing their production method.
3) Try loose-leaf: Purchase organic loose-leaf tea in bulk. Find yourself a reputable supplier, such as your local health food store. All you need then is a way to steep the tea. Try a tea ball infuser, a fillable filter, make your own tea bags, use a french press, or brew a pot of water and use a strainer.
Trust me, paying more attention to your tea will be worth it. Just remind yourself what could be happening when you drop a tea bag in hot water - it could potentially melt and leach chemicals when heated. Drinking this concoction can disrupt how your body regulates hormones.
And not to mention that if tea bags contain plastic then they shouldn’t be composted, making them a poor environmental choice. If you're a composter and put these tea bags in a compost pile, the very small amount of plastic or chemicals remaining in the bag can be reintroduced back into the food chain via the soil.
IC warriors, how about we make small changes that will benefit not only our bodies, but also our environment? That way, the next time you sip on that delicious hot tea, you can be happy knowing that you are prioritizing your health AND making the world a better place.
For specifics on potential bleach, plastics or other toxic production methods of specific tea brands, check out this article that reviews each brand.
To learn more about the effects of plastic on the environment, check out this 2019 research article.
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