Be careful what you buy online, especially if you plan on eating or drinking it, because there’s no way to really know whether it’s safe.

A new report in the BMJ details the case of a 16-year-old young woman who purchased green tea from a Chinese website in a bid to lose weight. Instead of just losing a few pounds, though, the teen also temporarily lost her health.

The girl went to her doctors in London complaining of nausea, joint pain, and nonspecific abdominal pains. Believing she was suffering from a urinary tract infection, physicians prescribed her antibiotics and sent her home, but she returned to the emergency room jaundiced and feeling even sicker.

By the time she returned to the hospital, she was in critical condition, and doctors diagnosed her with hepatitis, a swelling or inflammation of the liver. The disease can be caused by a virus, or exposure to harmful substances, such as alcohol.

“I had only lost a couple of pounds but then started having horrible pains in my joints, and felt very dizzy and sick,” she said in the study. “I was very scared when I was admitted to hospital and had lots of tests. I didn’t fully understand what was going on at the time.”

The girl, a native of Yemen, denied using alcohol, over-the-counter medications, or illegal drugs. When the doctors questioned her again, she admitted she had purchased two boxes of green tea online, each containing about 100 tea bags. She had been drinking about 3 cups of the tea for a few months. Since most of the ingredients were listed in Chinese, she had no idea what she was drinking. [2]

Once the teen stopped drinking the tea and was treated with IV fluids and medication, she quickly recovered.

An ingredient in the tea, Camellia sinensis, was determined to be the cause of the girl’s hepatitis. Camellia sinensis is a shrub whose leaves and buds are used to make the beverage. [3]

“We acknowledge that green tea is predominantly a very safe and healthy drink, with antioxidant properties,” the case study authors wrote. It was a substance added to the tea that caused the girl’s liver to become enflamed, they explain. “This raises the possibility that it is the addition of other chemicals causing hepatotoxicity, (chemical-driven liver damage) particularly in preparations used for weight loss.”

Pesticides on the surface of the tea leaves can also cause health problems for users, the scientists write.

While Camellia sinensis is natural, the substance is not regulated, so there are no guidelines concerning what amounts are considered safe or toxic.

The authors of the study write that green tea is normally a “very safe and healthy drink, with antioxidant properties.”

“I will never buy any online tea again or any weight-loss pills,” the girl wrote. “People should be more aware of what they are buying and the side effects.”

Additional Sources:

[1] ABC News

[2] Daily Mail

[3] The Huffington Post – United Kingdom

Article featured photo: Getty Images


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Post written byJulie Fidler:
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.