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Sip Tease: The Shocking Truth About Herbal Teas

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By Mia Bolaris-Forget

With more and more people trying to live a healthy lifestyle by staying fit and trim could fall prey to some very popular myths, especially those who are taking a more holistic approach. Among the confusing choices are those among healthy beverage consumption, especially when it comes to herbal teas. While most have received lots of credit lately for being able to help us do everything from lose weight to calm our nerves and fend off illness and disease, experts caution tea tottlers to caveat emptor. In fact, they note, that not only do some fail to live up to their reputation, but can actually do more harm than good.

They remind (herbal) tea enthusiasts that herbal teas are not “true” teas since they are not extracted from the leaf of the Camellia sinensis plant, which is the origin of green and black teas; and that means they may not contain many of the disease fighting phytochemicals (flavonoids) prevalent in “real” teas. Experts note that most flavorful favorites including chamomile, orange, peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm, raspberry, rose hips, ginger, jasmine and other fruit flavored or spiced teas are heavenly (tasting) and harmless. And they add that while they “do” contain some phytochemicals, the amount is small compared to “real” (green and black) teas, and less is known about their effects than those in regular teas.

The “problem” say professionals that they have with many of these herbal teas (and the claims they make) is the same problem they have with similar herbal supplements. And they add that with teas, there’s even less (accurate and discernable) information about what you are getting. Some suggest that, when it comes to herbal teas, you really don’t know how much is in the tea bag and what (actually) happens when you brew it. They go on to say and caution that some herbs are not water-soluble and that plant material may in fact be “old”. Furthermore, lots of herbal teas are comprised of a mixture of herbs, making their effects even less predictable.

Among those (teas) that are actually labeled dangerous are: “dieter’s”, “cleansing”, or “detox” teas. Most of these are believed to contain harsh laxative herbs such as senna, aloe, cascara, rhubarb root, frangula, or buckthorn, linked to diarrhea and dehydration, which can lead to temporary weight loss. They can also contribute to causing abdominal pain, muscle weakness and severe diarrhea. In fact, quite a few healthy young women experienced fatal consequences as a result of drinking senna-containing teas for months; forcing some states (such as California) to put a warning on these laxative teas.

Some newer versions of these “weight-loss” teas contain ephedra-like ingredients, such as green-tea extract and bitter orange, as well as garcinia, guarana, and yerba mate (the last two which also offer caffeine). Furthermore, there has been no substantiation that these offer long-term weight loss, but they do warrant some safety concerns.

Besides concerns regarding “diet” teas, many nutrition researchers remind tea tottlers that comfrey has been known to harm the liver and to cause cancer in animals. In fact, it has been banned in Canada and the FDA warned the United States about it in 2001. Chaparral may also cause liver damage. Also, some types of star anise are harmful. Lobelia can cause breathing problems and licorice (tea) can elevate blood pressure. Foxglove and lily of the valley are suspected to affect heart function, while St. John’s wort can interfere with a variety of medications. And experts also caution against the following: sassafras, hydrangea, black cherry, blue cohosh, elderberry, periwinkle, nutmeg, and foxglove (teas). They even note, that even relatively “harmless” chamomile, may in some instances cause reactions in those allergic to ragweed.

Overall, nutrition experts note that your best cup of tea is the “traditional” black or green teas. If you enjoy an OCCASSIONAL herbal variety, stick to the ones considered “safe” (see above) and be wary of medical claims made for herbal teas.

Long Island Health, Fitness & Beauty Articles > Sip Tease: The Shocking Truth About Herbal Teas

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