Plastic and Cancerous Compounds in Tea Bags—A Surprising Source of Potential Toxins
April 24, 2013
By Dr. Mercola
I’ve long advocated drinking tea in lieu of coffee, but the downside of modern food technology is again rearing its ugly head and causing brand new health concerns over this otherwise healthful brew.
A recent article in The Atlantic1 raises questions about the safety of plastic tea bags, some of which have fancy pyramid shapes, designed to allow the tea leaves to unfurl during infusion.
Chances are you’ve never even given the tea bag a second thought. But indeed, some of the newer tea bags are made with a variety of plastics; some are nylon, some are made of viscose rayon, and others are made of thermoplastic, PVC or polypropylene.
Anyone aware of the dangers of plastic chemicals leaching out of plastic containers and bottles is likely to be concerned about drinking tea steeped through heated plastic.
The other bad news is that paper tea bags may be just as bad, or worse, than the plastic ones because many of them are treated with epichlorohydrin, a compound mainly used in the production of epoxy resins
Considered a potential carcinogen by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health2 (NIOSH), epichlorohydrin is also used as a pesticide. Besides making its way into tea bags, it can also be found in coffee filters, water filters, and sausage casings.
When epichlorohydrin comes in contact with water, it hydrolyzes to 3-MCPD, which has been shown to cause cancer in animals. It’s also been implicated in infertility (it has a spermatoxic effect in male rats3) and suppressed immune function4.
This chemical is already a well-known “process contaminant” associated with modern food production. According to the American Oil Chemicals Society5 (AOCS), 3-MCPD can also be found in variable levels in refined vegetable oils, which is yet another reason to avoid such cooking oils and replace them with organic coconut oil.
Do Plastic Tea Bags Pose a Health Concern?
As you probably know, chemicals in plastic containers and bottles have been found to leach into food and drink, thereby posing a number of health hazards. Examples include bisphenol-A (BPA), bisphenol-S (BPS), and phthalates, all of which mimic hormones and act as potent endocrine disruptors.
Unfortunately, according to the featured article, neither the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice nor the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have any information on the toxicity of plastic tea bags or the levels of plastic chemicals that might migrate into the tea when steeped in hot water. Hard to believe, but true, the US federal agencies are not supervising this potential toxic exposure.
According to the featured article:
“Could plastic tea bags also be bad for our health? They are most commonly made from food grade nylon or polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which are two of the safest plastics on the scale of harmful leaching potential.
Both have very high melting points, which offer some assurance to consumers, as one would think the melting point of plastic is the temperature at which one would need to worry about accidentally eating it.
There is another temperature point for plastics, though, that we may need to worry about, called the ‘glass transition’ temperature (Tg) . That is the temperature at which the molecule in certain materials such as polymers begin to break down. As a rule, the Tg of a material is always lower than the melting point.“
Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius). In the case of PET the glass transition point (Tg) is about 169 degrees, and the breakdown point of nylon is even lower than PET.
“If the question is, ‘As the polymer goes through that transition state, is it easier for something to leach out?’ ‘the answer is yes,’ said Dr. Ray Fernando, professor and director of polymers and coatings at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo,” The Atlantic states.
So while these plastics are generally considered among the safest in terms of leaching potential, the molecules in these plastic tea bags may still in fact break down and leach out when steeped in boiling water—which is the recommended way to brew a good cup of tea, especially when you’re using higher quality whole tea leaves, which these newer tea bags are designed for…
Paper Tea Bags May Be Just as Bad, or Worse…
The now defunct Dexter Corporation was the initial owner on the patent6 of a method for treating both tea bags and coffee filters with latex (plastic), to aid in preventing tears that allow the tea leaves/coffee grounds to leak. This invention “saturates and completely impregnates” the entire web material. Therein lies one of the problems with paper tea bags as they are frequently treated with epichlorophydrin, which hydrolyzes to the carcinogen 3-MCPD when contact with water occurs.
Dow Chemical Co is one of the largest producers of epichlorophydrin. According to safety literature7 from Dow, it’s a very dangerous chemical that requires using extra precautions when handling. Granted, that doesn’t automatically render it dangerous in the final product, but it can still be a cause for concern, particularly as it can turn into a carcinogen when water is added. There are many unanswered questions with respect to the potential hazards of using this chemical in products specifically designed to be used with boiling water…
A good way to protect yourself and your family in this area is to purchase your tea from manufacturers who can certify that their tea bags do not contain this compound. Organic India, for example, has sent me a confirmation that the paper used for their tea bags does not contain epichlorohydrin. In a 2009 article, Kristie Leong, MD also claims to have done her own inquiries and that Bigelow Tea Company does not use the chemical in their bags8. Many plastic tea bags are advertised as “silky” or “mesh bags,” or they’ll have fancy shapes or oversized bags. I’d suggest avoiding those as well if you want to be on the safe side.
Your best option would be to opt for loose tea. This does take longer, but it can be well worth the wait. One of my favorite teas is Royal Matcha Green Tea, which has one of the highest levels of the potent antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Unlike other teas which you steep and strain, matcha tea is a powder made from ground green tea leaves. You add the powder right into the water. You are consuming the whole leaf, which makes matcha one of the healthiest green teas available. Another excellent option is loose Tulsi tea leaves. This well-known Ayurvedic herb is also full of antioxidants that fight free radicals in your body and prevent oxidation damage.
How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Tea
There is an art to brewing tea using loose tea leaves, but once you find your “sweet spot” you may never go back to bagged tea again. Here are a few simple guidelines for making the “perfect” cup of tea:
Bring water to a boil in a tea kettle (avoid using a non-stick pot, as they too can release harmful chemicals when heated)
Preheat your tea pot or cup to prevent the water from cooling too quickly when transferred. Simply add a small amount of boiling water to the pot or tea cup that you’re going to steep the tea in. Ceramic and porcelain retain heat well. Then cover the pot or cup with a lid. Add a tea cozy if you have one, or drape with a towel. Let stand until warm, then pour out the water
Put the tea into an infuser, strainer, or add loose into the tea pot. Steeping without an infuser or strainer will produce a more flavorful tea. Start with one heaped teaspoon per cup of tea, or follow the instructions on the tea package. The robustness of the flavor can be tweaked by using more or less tea
Add boiling water. Use the correct amount for the amount of tea you added (i.e. for four teaspoons of tea, add four cups of water).
The ideal water temperature varies based on the type of tea being steeped:
White or green teas (full leaf): Well below boiling (170-185 F or 76-85 C). Once the water has been brought to a boil, remove from heat and let the water cool for about 30 seconds for white tea and 60 seconds for green tea before pouring it over the leaves
Oolongs (full leaf): 185-210 F or 85-98 C
Black teas (full leaf) and Pu-erhs: Full rolling boil (212 F or 100 C)
Cover the pot with a cozy and let steep. Follow steeping instructions on the package. If there are none, here are some general steeping guidelines. Taste frequently as you want it to be flavorful but not bitter: Oolong teas: 4-7 minutes
Black teas: 3-5 minutes
Green teas: 2-3 minutes
Once desired flavor has been achieved you need to remove the strainer or infuser. If using loose leaves, pour the tea through a strainer into your cup and any leftover into another vessel (cover with a cozy to retain heat)
After Water, Tea is One of Your Healthiest Beverage Choices
While some tea bags—whether plastic or paper processed with epichlorophydrin—may pose a potential hazard, please don’t let that deter you from drinking tea altogether. Although I still believe pure water should make up the majority of your daily fluid intake, high-quality tea has numerous health benefits to offer. Among them is growing evidence that the polyphenols in tea, which include EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) and many others, can be protective against cancer. For example, the polyphenols in green tea appear to be even more effective at fighting the progression of cancer than the antioxidants found in red wine and grapes.
Beyond this, the beneficial properties in tea have been known to:
Neutralize the effects to your body of harmful fats and oils
Inhibit bacteria and viruses
Protect against oxidation in your brain and liver
Help promote healthy gums
Drinking tea has also been linked to:
Improved mental alertness and slowing of brain-cell degeneration
Reduced blood pressure
Protection again type 2 diabetes
Lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels
Lower risk of breast, colon, lung, ovarian and prostate cancers
Reduced risk of heart attack and stroke
Of course, there are some general ground rules to follow when selecting tea of any kind, and those are that it should preferably be:
Organic (otherwise tea may be heavily sprayed with pesticides)
Grown in a pristine environment (tea is known to accumulate fluoride, heavy metals and other toxins from soil and water, so a clean growing environment is essential to producing a pure, high-quality tea)
So keep these tips in mind, and go ahead and enjoy a cup or two of your favorite variety. I personally prefer Matcha tea, a vibrant bright green tea made of tea leaves ground into a powder, and Tulsi tea, which is a powerful adaptogenic herb that provides important therapeutic benefits.
It’s what we expect as shoppers—what’s in the food will be displayed on the label.
But a new scientific examination by the non-profit food fraud detectives the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), discovered rising numbers of fake ingredients in products from olive oil to spices to fruit juice.
“Food products are not always what they purport to be,” Markus Lipp, senior director for Food Standards for the independent lab in Maryland, told ABC News.
In a new database to be released Wednesday, and obtained exclusively by ABC News today, USP warns consumers, the FDA and manufacturers that the amount of food fraud they found is up by 60 percent this year.
USP, a scientific nonprofit that according to their website “sets standards for the identity, strength, quality, and purity of medicines, food ingredients, and dietary supplements manufactured, distributed and consumed worldwide” first released the Food Fraud Database in April 2012.
The organization examined more than 1,300 published studies and media reports from 1980-2010. The update to the database includes nearly 800 new records, nearly all published in 2011 and 2012.
10 iPhone Apps to Help You Track Nutritious Eating on the Go
Making smart nutritional decisions when you’re at home is a bit easier than choosing the right thing to eat when you’re on the go. Thankfully, the same powerful mobile device that can streamline your professional and personal life can also help you keep track of what, and how, you’re eating on the go, as well as help you make better choices along the way. These 10 App Store offerings for the iPhone can help you keep track of your dietary decisions while you’re out and about, helping you maintain healthy eating habits even when you’re on a tight schedule.
GoMeals – This free app will not only help you track the foods you’ve already eaten and the activities you’ve done that have burned calories, it will also help you locate restaurants and choose the healthiest items on the menu. In addition, diabetic users can take advantage of the glucose tracker, which allows you to record and view your numbers throughout the day.
Don’t Eat That – If you’ve ever wondered what the ingredients label of the processed meals you eat on the go isn’t telling you, this $1.99 app is for you. Don’t Eat That will break food items down by their ingredients, letting you know if any of the contents are banned in other countries, known to be carcinogenic, allergenic, or to cause drug interactions, or are bad for children and pregnant women.
Eco Chef 10 Minute Meals with Bryan Au – If you’re eating raw and organic on the go, this $1.99 app will provide you with a selection of recipes that can be prepared in 10 minutes or less. Quickly put together healthy items for your lunch break before you leave the house without extending your morning routine, ensuring that you won’t have to engage in the mad scramble for healthy restaurant food later.
Healthy Food Finder – The Healthy Food Finder is a blessing to those with dietary allergies or food sensitivities. Lactose intolerant users can access dairy-free suggestions, athletes can find protein bars and drinks to restore electrolytes, gluten-sensitive eaters can avoid the problematic substance, and those with heart or digestive problems can access information about foods designed to ease those woes. Hit the supermarket quickly and easily, finding what you need without spending an entire evening reading labels to suss out problematic ingredients.
Healthy Eating – Food as Preventive Medicine – With a new tip each day, this free app helps you learn about the medicinal properties of specific foods, allowing you to make the right choices for your body on a daily basis.
VegOut – Vegetarian Restaurant Guide – Finding vegetarian-friendly food on the go can be a real pain, which is why this $2.99 app is so valuable. The largest international listing of vegetarian, vegan and vegetarian-friendly restaurants, VegOut will help you find guilt-free, healthy restaurants no matter where you are.
Food Additives 2 – If part of your health regimen includes cutting out foods with dangerous additives, this $3.99 app is for you. Never ingest another thing you’re trying to avoid because of complicated ingredients labels; Food Additives 2 will let you know when an item is dangerous, safe, unsafe or unknown.
Dirty Dozen – Plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables are essential to your body’s health, but many can also present some risks if they’re covered in pesticides. The free Dirty Dozen app helps you run into a market and snag the safest items with the lowest level of pesticides when you can’t find organic by letting you know the most commonly contaminated produce items.
EatingWell Healthy in a Hurry – Need to whip something up quickly without sacrificing nutrition? This free app is made up of 200 of the fastest and healthiest recipes in the EatingWell database, helping you throw together gourmet meals that are both healthy and easily prepared.
Fooducate – This free app won the first prize at the United States Surgeon General’s Healthy App Challenge, making it a trustworthy source of information about food, additives and how to make healthier alternative choices. Simply scan an item and obtain the results, then make your healthier purchases so you can get back to your busy life.
Finding healthy fare around you isn’t always easy, especially when you’re under time constraints. Using your iPhone to track down the nearest good-for-you restaurants or markets while you’re driving, however, is reckless and dangerous. You won’t be saving any time if you end up causing an accident or getting pulled over and ticketed for using a distracting device while operating your vehicle, so make sure that you plot your route before putting the keys in the ignition.
As of early September 2012, over $25 million has been donated to the “No on 37” campaign effort.
These are the $100,000 and over donors to the “no” campaign as of September 4, 2012:
E.I. Dupont De Nemours & Co.
BASF Plant Science
Coca-Cola North America
The J.M. Smucker Company
Council for Biotechnology Information
Grocery Manufacturers Association
Pioneer Hi-Bred International
Ocean Spray Cranberries
Dean Foods Company
Biotechnology Industry Organization
McCormick & Company
Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company
Rich Products Corporation
Del Monte Foods
Knouse Foods Cooperative
Mars Food North America
Other food companies who have contributed to the “no” campaign (but with checks of less than $100,000) include Bumble Bee Foods, Sunny Delight Beverages, Sara Lee, Campbell Soup, McCain Foods, Dole Packaged Foods, Land O’Lakes, Morton Salt and Godiva Chocolatier.
When a member of the family suffers from food or seasonal allergies, managing symptoms and reducing the likelihood of contact with known allergens is of the utmost importance. Fortunately, modern technology offers a slew of options for doing just that, with iPhone apps available in the famed App Store to do everything from tracking pollen counts to discovering potentially problematic food ingredients to reminding sufferers to take their medication daily, just to name a few. If you or someone in your care suffers from allergies, these 10 iPhone apps may prove to be helpful.
MyFoodFacts – Grocery shopping can be a mighty undertaking when someone in the household suffers from food allergies, however this app can make the task a bit less arduous. Tech-savvy shoppers can simply snap a picture of a product’s bar code with their iPhone’s camera and MyFoodFacts will return a detailed list of potentially allergenic ingredients. Sesame seeds, tree nuts, peanuts, egg, shellfish, soy, fish, wheat, and milk are among the app’s focus, helping shoppers avoid foods that could spur potentially serious reactions.
Allergy Advisor – Something of a one-stop-shop app for those suffering from respiratory allergies, Allergy Advisor offers pollen counts and weather forecasts for a user’s area, the ability to log symptoms and triggers, special storage for medical professionals’ contact information, and treatment/prescription refill alerts. The free app is, however, supported by ASTEPRO® nasal spray.
Allergy Track – The ability to track your respiratory allergies in order to accurately report symptoms and triggers to your doctor is at your fingertips with PLB Melody’s free Allergy Track app. Logging the intensity of symptoms and monitoring allergic episodes over a significant period also makes it easier for your allergy specialist to determine the impact that your allergies have on your daily life and build an accurate allergy profile for more effective treatment.
ZocDoc – When allergic reactions require non-emergency medical attention, especially when you or an allergic family member is away from home, ZocDoc can help you locate a doctor and book an appointment easily. Entering your zip code and insurance information will return a list of doctors that are in your network and their available appointment times, and with the tap of a finger your appointment is booked!
RxMindMe Prescription – Allergies that require medication can often go untreated during hectic times simply because taking medication slips your mind. RxMindMe allows you to create profiles for several members of the family, sends notifications to remind you to take your medication or administer it to a child, and track the remaining quantity of medication you have on-hand.
Allergy Alert – Free from Pollen.com comes Allergy Alert, an app designed to update users with pollen and allergy forecasts. Environmental forecasts like an asthma index also help those with allergies or children who suffer from allergies to stay informed about environmental factors that could exacerbate the condition and increase the severity of symptoms.
iEatOut Gluten Free & Allergy Free – Ordering safe entrees from a restaurant is no easy task for those that suffer from food allergies; fortunately, iEatOut allows users to select items from a variety of ethnic cuisines that do not contain known allergens or gluten. The app also helps users communicate their needs to wait staff regarding food preparation and ingredients.
Recalls Plus – Product recalls are no laughing matter; they can, however, be hard to keep up with. Using Recalls Plus takes much of the legwork out of discovering product recalls, especially those that are related to known allergens. While the app is very useful for parents of children who suffer from allergies, it also provides valuable safety recall information as well.
Air Quality Pro – Before planning an outing or trip to the park, allergy and asthma sufferers should determine whether or not their area is under an air quality alert. Air Quality Pro monitors the air quality index in major cities around the United States and returns forecasts that include detailed information and maps.
Cook it Allergy Free – Cooking delicious, allergen-free meals at home is easier than ever with the Cook IT Allergy Free app, which makes simple work of substituting allergenic ingredients with safe alternatives. Modifying favorite recipes to make them safe for those suffering from food allergies isn’t always easy, but this app does most of the work for you. Users can also share their allergen-free custom recipes through a variety of social networking platforms.
Using these apps can make a major difference in the way that you approach and handle allergy management, but it’s important to remember that these tools, like any others, are not infallible. There’s no substitute for the advice of a medical professional or your own personal experiences, so if an app suggests that a particular item is safe and you’re not completely convinced, you should always follow your instincts and knowledge base.