Risks associated with consumption of herbal teas

Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 1997;150:1-30. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4612-2278-1_1.

Abstract

Plants have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. Health-oriented individuals are turning to herbal teas as alternatives to caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, and cocoa and for low-caloric supplements. The popularity of herbal tea consumption has increased significantly during the past two decades in the U.S. Hundreds of different teas made up of varied mixtures of roots, leaves, seeds, barks, or other parts of shrubs, vines, or trees are sold in health food stores. Although chemists have been characterizing toxic plant constituents for over 100 years, toxicological studies of herbal teas have been limited and, therefore, the safety of many of these products is unknown. Plants synthesize secondary metabolites that are not essential in the production of energy and whose role may be in the defense mechanisms as plant toxins to their interactions with other plants, herbivores, and parasites. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) were among the first naturally occurring carcinogens identified in plant products, and their presence in herbal teas is a matter of public health significance. Some herbal tea mixtures and single-ingredient herbal teas have been analyzed for toxic/mutagenic potential by bioassay and chromatographic techniques. Numerous human and animal intoxications have been associated with naturally occurring components, including pyrrolizidine alkaloids, tannins, and safrole. Thus, the prevention of human exposure to carcinogens or mutagens present in herbal tea mixture extracts is crucial. Preparation of infusion drinks prepared from plants appears to concentrate biologically active compounds and is a major source of PA poisoning. The quantity and consumption over a long period of time is of major concern. It is recommended that widespread consumption of herbal infusions should be minimized until data on the levels and varieties of carcinogens, mutagens, and toxicants are made available.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Beverages / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Plants, Medicinal
  • Poisoning / prevention & control
  • Public Health / standards
  • Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids / adverse effects
  • Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids / metabolism
  • Safrole / adverse effects
  • Safrole / metabolism
  • Tannins / adverse effects
  • Tannins / metabolism
  • World Health Organization

Substances

  • Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids
  • Tannins
  • Safrole