Could That Morning Cup of Earl Grey Be Causing Your Aches?

By Lisa Davis

People are passionate about their tea. Drinking it is serious business, with many tea lovers turning their daily cups into English-inspired rituals complete with fine china, fancy pastries, and dainty sandwiches. But could your beverage of choice be the source of your aches?

According to a piece by Dr. Naveen Kakumanu and researcher Sudhaker D. Rao of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit published in The New England Journal of Medicine, a 47-year-old woman’s lower back, arm, leg, and hip pains were linked to her daily consumption, for over 17 years, of a pitcher of tea made with 100 to 150 tea bags.

Doctors found that the high level of fluoride in the tea created skeletal fluorosis in the woman, a condition usually found only in areas with high fluoride concentrations in the drinking water. A pitcher of tea of that strength has about 20 milligram of fluoride. (According to the Centers for Disease Control adults who consume excessive fluoride over the course of a lifetime have a greater chance of developing pain, as well as of bone breaks and tooth loss.)

“Brewed tea has one of the highest fluoride contents among beverages in the United States, the doctors wrote. After appropriate counseling, the patient discontinued tea consumption, with improvement in her symptoms.

How much tea is too much, and what kind could cause pain?

In an article at, Dr. Gray Whitford, professor of oral biology in the School of Dentistry at Georgia Regents University, said, The additional fluoride from drinking two to four cups of tea a day won’t harm anyone it’s the very heavy tea drinkers who could get in trouble.”

Whitford has found that black tea may contain higher concentrations of fluoride than previously thought. Most published reports show one to five milligrams of fluoride per liter of black tea, but Whitford’s study showed that number could be as high as nine milligrams.

As in all things, moderation is key. Even during teatime.

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