- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hold the green tea: The nationwide love affair with antioxidants may be too much of a good thing.

Rutgers University researchers announced yesterday that intestinal toxicity, chromosome damage and fetal leukemia are among potential, dangerous side effects from dietary phytochemicals naturally occurring substances in tea and other foods normally cited for their cancer- and disease-fighting potential.

“Whereas diet-derived compounds are generally regarded as safe based on their long history of use in the diet or as traditional medicines, it is becoming increasingly apparent that these compounds could have deleterious effect,” said Joshua Lambert, lead author of the study and a chemist at the university.

His findings reveal that a well-meaning self-remedying public is in danger of overdosing on the compounds, particularly through concentrates and supplements that tout their healing or weight-loss powers, or their lack of caffeine.

One commercial brand of green tea extract, for example, claims to contain more than 700 milligrams of polyphenols, or plant-based antioxidants. A typical cup of green tea provides about 80 milligrams.

Mr. Lambert, whose research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has found that an increasing number of human cases of hepatotoxicity, or chemical-induced liver damage, has been reported in people using tea-based dietary supplements. Research on rats and dogs also found a potential for kidney and intestinal damage.

Though Mr. Lambert says further research is needed, some of his findings also suggest that heavy amounts of the compounds could damage human chromosomes, pose a harm to pregnant women and increase the risk of leukemia among unborn babies. He is also concerned about negative interactions between the supplements and common prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

“A clear understanding of the potential adverse effects of dietary phytochemicals, including polyphenols, is necessary,” Mr. Lambert noted in his study, which was published by the American Chemical Society.

Without it, he said, a “balanced judgment” of the health benefits and potential hazards of the compounds will be hard to come by.

Green tea along with hoodia still fixates many of us. Imports of green tea itself, much of it from China, have increased sixfold in recent years. In 1997, the United States imported 735 tons; by 2005, the figure had risen to 4,576 tons, according to the Tea Association of the USA.

Meanwhile, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine an agency within NIH with a $123 million annual budget also is investigating the health benefits of substances common to many larders, including tea, chocolate, cranberries, ginger, garlic and mushrooms.

Earlier this year, the agency issued alerts that most likely disappointed fans of herbal or so-called natural health supplements. Chondroitin, it said, provides little help for arthritis, garlic does not lower “bad” cholesterol, and lavender and tea tree oils can cause breast growth in young men.


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