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Updated: January 12, 2014 03:22 IST

Of tea, coffee and commerce

T. Rama Prasad
Comment (7)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

Doctors usually advise against the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea. But a patient asked me during consultation: “How many cups of tea should I give my kids each day?” Before I could comprehend what he was saying, he waved a copy of The Hindu (Oct. 10, 2013, Coimbatore edition), which quoted an official of the Tea Board as saying: “The benefits of tea on the health front should be widely propagated.” An office-bearer of an organisation was also quoted as saying that a series of meetings would be held with the help of the Tea Board to promote tea-drinking among children.

The Tea Board has often urged the public to drink more tea to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer (The Hindu, Sept. 25, 2001), quoting scientific literature on the value of tea in protecting people from these diseases, but conveniently ignoring literature on the possible and proven adverse effects of excessive tea consumption.

Green tea, black tea, white tea, oolong tea, pu-erh tea, and so on are all derived from the plant Camellia sinensis, native to China and India. Tea has for long been considered to be a healthy drink full of flavonoids and other goodies like antioxidants that have a variety of positive health benefits — reducing risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, cancer, obesity, infections, osteoporosis, hypertension, neurological disease, cognitive impairment, and so on. Scientific literature carries evidence in favour of tea, especially green tea which has more than 30 polyphenols and a catechin called epigallocatechin (EGCg) which act on the human system in positive ways.

How much of this evidence is created by “paid research” is a different question. Industry has a big stake as after water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage, and as there does not seem to be a downside to tea. But some studies indicate that excessive consumption of tea or tea-based dietary supplements may cause osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s Disease, digestive disorders, premenstrual syndrome, cardiovascular problems, urinary system disturbances, sleeplessness, kidney stones, oesophageal cancer, nervous disorders, and so on.


Adverse effects are caused by the presence of fluoride, aluminium, tannins, oxalates, caffeine, and so on in tea leaves, especially in those that are not hand-picked and are machine-processed. Caffeine-related side-effects are more pronounced in children even when consumption is in small doses. Canadian guidelines recommend that young children should not get more than 45 mg of caffeine a day.

A study by Jashua Lambert et al at Rutgers University, funded by the National Institutes of Health, revealed that excessive consumption of tea or tea-based products could cause chromosomal damage, foetal leukaemia and liver damage. One commercial brand of green tea extract was found to contain excessive levels of polyphenols, or plant-based antioxidants, whereas a cup of green tea has only about 8 mg.

Another study led by Dr. Kashif Shafique of Glasgow University found that the risk of getting prostate cancer is 50 per cent more in men who drank more than seven cups of tea a day, compared to those who consumed less.


All the negative evidence is drowned in the cacophony of aggressive marketing propaganda. Nowadays, even in the medical field, industry seems to define the diagnostic and treatment options — through controlled and sponsored (read ‘paid’) research.

Business promoters often use scientific observations selectively to mislead the public and augment the sale of their products. One may quote from the Journal of the American Medical Association (June 1999), and the “Nurses’ Health Study” and “Physicians’ Health Study” and appeal to the public to drink more coffee to lower the risk of gallstones, and to drink alcohol daily to protect against heart attacks and bad cholesterol levels.


No doubt, tea leaves are generally and nutritionally good, like many other leaves we use in our diet, but the tall claims are commercially motivated. A little tea may be good, but it is unduly glorified by business. And now it seems it makes business sense to get children addicted to tea. They are already victims of irresistible commercial junk food that is unfit for human consumption.

There is no conclusive scientific evidence that tea, including ‘green tea’, reduces the risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, cancer or early death due to any cause. The U.S. National Cancer Institute “does not recommend for or against the use of tea to reduce the risk of any type of cancer.”

Dissemination of imbalanced information does more harm than good. And if a little tea is good, more of it need necessarily not be better. So, take the Tea Board’s words with a pinch of salt.

(The writer is a Respirologist at the Pay What You Can Clinic, Perundurai, Tamil Nadu. He earlier served at the Perundurai Medical College & Research Centre. E-mail: drtramaprasad )

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Indeed this is an eye opening article on excessive consumption of tea and trying to misguide the parents and youngsters to create a new flavor in them so that tea becomes a part of their daily ne necessary consumption. In general any thing in excessive leads to adverse effects . What ever research by medical or health scientiesis are doing is based on their expts. with the patients affected by the heart or the releated diseases and not on the healthy children who are very far away from such diseases. Hence commercial advertisements favouring consumption of tea by children need to be carefully watched by the parents and children welfare related organizations.

from:  Dr. D.P.Navalkele
Posted on: Jan 14, 2014 at 10:44 IST

Thank for enlightening on the ill-effects of excessive consumption of tea and coffee which are two sides of the same coin.

from:  Ambrose
Posted on: Jan 14, 2014 at 00:38 IST

Heartiest thanks to the author for bringing the menace of 'paid research' to the forefront. Balanced diet and exercise is the key to good health and well being. However, sponsored food research and propaganda through advertisement shifted the equilibrium toward few foods (so called superfoods) like green tea, pomegranate juice, nuts, tomatoes etc. Although it will be unreasonable to negate the health promoting qualities of these yet anything in excess can be harmful as Nietzsche had cautioned “The mother of excess is not joy but joylessness.”

from:  Ranginee Choudhury
Posted on: Jan 13, 2014 at 10:54 IST

I have been drinking tea and coffee since very young age. I never had
any trouble with my health. So are my family members, including the
older ones many of them going into their 80s and still healthy, drinks
tea twice a day. I don't understand the overthinking of trouble with tea
and coffee. It is like many years back there was a propaganda that
coconut oil is unhealthy. We use just coconut oil at our household - no
case of cholestrol ever found in our family history. Bring up scientific
validations to support your hypothesis.

from:  Aswin
Posted on: Jan 12, 2014 at 23:45 IST

There is no mention of coffee consumption, upper limits per day and the effects of over and above the upper limits. There is divided opinion among doctors reg. consumption of coffee and tea. Some suggest to use chicory free coffee powder though majority of people prefer to use coffee powder-chicory mix to get strong decoction. Any answer from the author?

from:  R.Ranganathan
Posted on: Jan 12, 2014 at 13:23 IST

A little-known fact is that tea and coffee--even in the smallest doses--immediately pushes up blood sugar, even when the beverage is made without sugar.

from:  R Bhuvaneshwari
Posted on: Jan 12, 2014 at 12:11 IST

When my first child was young and started to take solid food, I
consulted elders as to what food can be given to the child. I prepared a
long list of fruits vegetables and the like which can be given and those
to be avoided from various people. When I cross checked the items and
made a second list of items to be given and those to be avoided, I found
to my surprise that you can give any thing as also you should not give
anything. Opinion varied so widely in about 10 or 15 people. Finally I
decided that I will give the child what it eats!

from:  D. Darwin Albert Raj
Posted on: Jan 12, 2014 at 08:33 IST
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