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Add Iced Tea to the List of Things That Can Seriously Hurt You

One 56-year-old Arkansas man learned the hard way that drinking 16 cups of tea a day can have negative health effects in unanticipated ways.
April 1, 2015, 11:00pm
Photo via Flickr user Danielle Scott

For almost anyone living in the UK or its former territories, tea is a way of life. More serious than a heart attack, some might say.

Ditto the American South, where sweet tea flows as freely as fried chicken. Tea is mostly water, as (hopefully) anyone knows, but that doesn't mean that you should drink it like water. At least, that's what a very unfortunate Arkansas man recently learned after drinking a full gallon of the stuff every single day—and suffering the health consequences.

A 56-year-old Arkansas man was idling away his days with a daily regimen of about 16 eight-ounce cups of tea—I mean, that refreshing flavor of sweet tea never gets old, am I right? But then, one surely unpleasant day, his kidneys failed.

And doctors soon figured out why. After crossing over several other possible reasons for his medical misfortune, they determined that he essentially overdosed (quite drastically) on oxalate, a chemical found in black tea. Also found in spinach, rhubarb leaves, nuts, chocolate, and wheat bran, oxalate can cause kidney stones—or far, far worse—in large quantities. And 16 cups of iced tea per day qualifies as "large quantities." In fact, it's three to ten times more oxalate than the average American consumes each day.

The high daily dose of the chemical eventually led to some quite awful symptoms (nausea, fatigue, and body aches) and caused his kidneys to clog and become inflamed, and will result in him being on dialysis for possibly the rest of his life.

It's worth noting, of course, that most of us experience little worse than stained teeth and the occasional heart palpitation from too many cups of tea. Most serious illnesses and deaths associated with caffeine are linked to ingesting pure caffeine powder and energy drinks. Dr. Randy Luciano, a Yale School of Medicine kidney specialist who's familiar with the kidney damage caused by oxalate, tells The Guardian, "I wouldn't tell people to stop drinking tea," and noted that the Arkansas man's habit was really, truly "a lot of tea."