October 19, 1999
Dieter's Brews Make Tea Time A Dangerous
Washington, D.C. (SafetyAlerts) - A cup of hot herbal tea
may feel soothing to the soul, but instead of soothing the body, some herbal teas can make
you sick if they are misused.
According to the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) this can be especially true with those teas called "dieter's teas".
The stimulant laxative teas and dietary supplements which the FDA is most concerned
about contain one or more of the substances senna, aloe, rhubarb root, buckthorn, cascara,
and castor oil. These plant-derived products have been used since ancient times for their
ability to promote bowel movements and relieve constipation. Several, such as cascara,
senna and castor oil, also are available as over-the-counter drug laxatives and are
regulated as drugs.
The FDA has stated that , when consumed in
excessive amounts, these products could result in diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, stomach
cramps, chronic constipation, fainting, and perhaps death.
Although these products are often are used for
weight loss based on the consumers' belief that increased bowel movements will prevent
absorption of calories, a special committee of FDA's Food Advisory Committee concluded
that studies show laxative-induced diarrhea does not significantly reduce absorption of
In recent years, the FDA has received
"adverse event" reports, including the deaths of four young women, in which
dieter's teas may have been a contributing factor.
As a result, FDA is advising consumers to follow
package directions carefully when using dieter's teas and other dietary supplements
containing senna, aloe, and other stimulant laxatives. Consumers should seek medical
attention for persistent diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and other bowel problems to prevent
more serious complications.
Some of these substances also are used in much
smaller quantities as natural flavorings in other foods. As such, they are regulated by
FDA as food additives or "generally recognized as safe" substances. FDA has not
received any information suggesting that these substances pose a hazard when used in the
amounts normally needed to provide flavoring.
Reports filed with the FDA indicate that users
tend to experience adverse effects when they misuse the products. Examples of misuse
include steeping the tea longer than product labeling recommends or drinking more than the
The reports indicate three types of adverse
- Short-term: stomach cramps,
nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea lasting several days. These symptoms are likely to occur in
first-time users who drink more than the recommended amount.
- Chronic: chronic diarrhea, pain
and constipation due to laxative dependency, which causes a sluggish bowel. In one report
to FDA, a person who reported using herbal products with stimulant laxatives for decades
suffered severe pain and constipation from loss of colon function and required surgery to
remove the colon. People who develop chronic problems usually have used these types of
products for years.
- Severe: fainting, dehydration and
electrolyte disorders (for example, low blood potassium, a condition that can cause
paralysis, irregular heartbeat, and possibly death). People who develop severe problems
tend to be those who are nutritionally compromised, partly as a result of drastic
reductions in food intake--for example, rigorous weight-loss dieters and people with the
eating disorders anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Four deaths reported to FDA involved women
with a history of such medical problems. According to information presented at a 1995
meeting of FDA's Food Advisory Committee, these herbal stimulant laxatives may have been a
contributing factor in their deaths.
To help protect yourself from experiencing these
adverse events in conjunction with using these products it is recommended that consumers:
- Read and follow package directions carefully.
- Stop using the product if diarrhea, loose stools,
or stomach pain develop.
- See a doctor if frequent diarrhea develops.
- See a doctor before using the product if the user
is pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or has a medical condition.
Consumers and health professionals should report
adverse effects associated with use of laxative teas or supplements to FDA by calling
FDA's MedWatch adverse event and product problem hotline at 1-800-FDA-1088. Additional
information about the MedWatch program can be found at www.fda.gov/medwatch/report/consumer/consumer.htm
on FDA's Website. They also may write to FDA at 5600 Fishers Lane, HFC-160, Rockville, MD
The report should include:
- name, address and telephone number of the person
who became ill
- name and address of the doctor or hospital
providing medical treatment
- description of the problem
- name of the product and store where it was bought.
Consumers also should report the problem to the
manufacturer or distributor listed on the product's label and to the store where the
product was bought.
Safety Alerts compiles comprehensive safety
recall information for the United States. SafeMail is a free email service to warn
consumers of faulty products and contaminated foods. For complete information regarding
current recalls, past recalls and timely product warning notification visit: www.safetyalerts.com.
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