Chinese green tea sold as a weight loss product has been linked to a case of acute hepatitis in a teenage girl. Writing in British Medical Journal Case Reports, the authors describe the link with the liver disorder as a “rare but recurring theme.”
Originally reporting to her doctor with nausea and non-specific abdominal pains, the 16-year-old Yemen-born girl was thought to have a urinary tract infection and prescribed the antibiotic amoxicillin accordingly.
However, her symptoms worsened and she was later admitted to the accident and emergency department with jaundice. The condition – in which bilirubin builds up in the body rather than being removed by the liver, leading the skin and eyes to become yellow – has several causes, including hepatitis.
The girl’s doctors were initially unsure what could have caused her symptoms: She denied taking alcohol, any "over-the-counter" medications, or any illicit drugs, all of which could have affected liver function. She also had no recent travel history or previous blood transfusions, she wasn’t pregnant and there was no family history of note.
It was only after further questioning that the patient revealed she had been regularly drinking Chinese green tea, which she had ordered over the Internet. Some studies have suggested that green tea can help weight loss, which is why the patient had been taking it, although the literature is inconclusive. However, based on a number of other cases where green tea has been implicated in the development of liver disorders, her doctors suspected it may have been responsible.
After viral and autoimmune causes of hepatitis were ruled out through further tests, her doctors recommended she cease consumption of the tea. The girl made a rapid recovery, leading the doctors to conclude the tea was the probable cause. The authors acknowledge that “green tea is predominantly a very safe and healthy drink, with antioxidant properties. It is the secondary or tertiary processed products, rather than the freshly made leaves, that have been described in previous case reports.”
They reason that it may be the addition of other chemicals or pesticides used in the growing of tea trees that can cause hepatitis, rather than the tea leaves themselves. They emphasize that the lack of regulation for products sold over the Internet heightens the risk of these toxic chemicals being present in herbal remedies, and in this case the patient admits she had been unable to read the ingredients on the tea boxes she bought as they were written in Chinese. So, while the report doesn’t suggest you need to stop drinking green tea, it seems you need to be careful where you buy it from.