Doctors said a teen's bid to lose weight by drinking tea left her with serious health complications, including acute hepatitis.
In a new case study in the British Medical Journal Case Reports, the unidentified patient came to her doctor with nausea, joint pain and nonspecific abdominal pains. Physicians gave the teen antibiotics, thinking she had a minor infection and sent her home. But she came back to the emergency room jaundiced with worsening symptoms.
The girl, 16, then told her London doctors she had started drinking green tea bought online in a bid to lose some weight.
"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."
After doing multiple tests searching for viral causes to her illness, the teen's doctors realized she had acute hepatitis, or an inflamed liver. Once the girl stopped drinking the tea and was given intravenous fluids and medication, she quickly recovered.
While the team did not test the tea for other substances, they theorized the tea itself could have contained materials that affected the girl's liver function.
"We acknowledge that green tea is predominantly a very safe and healthy drink, with antioxidant properties," the case study authors wrote, explaining secondary additives may cause harm. "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."
They also said pesticides on the green tea leaves could potentially cause problems for tea drinkers.
Dr. Donna Seger, head of the Tennessee Poison Center in Nashville, said she's always concerned when people buy herbal supplements or tea over the Internet without knowing much about where it came from.
"I think there are still tons of people who don’t realize that because it’s natural," doesn't mean it can't hurt you, Seger said of unlisted herbs or other materials in products. "They can have very significant toxicity."
Seger said people often turn to herbal supplements for weight loss and body building and that the liver, used to filter out toxins, is often the first organ to signal something is wrong.
"You tell me anyone has gotten anything over the Internet [she says check] the liver function," Seger explained.
The unidentified patient, who was born in Yemen, said she intended not to repeat the mistake.
"I will never buy any online tea again or any weight-loss pills," she wrote. "People should be more aware of what they are buying and the side effects."