Monday, August 4, 2008

This is scary! Hidden risk of iced tea

Huh? Iced tea is dangerous to drink? While tea is one of the healthiest drinks you can consume--it soothes stress, it helps prevent heart disease and stroke and even helps preserve memory--for some people it can raise the risk of debilitating kidney stones, according to Mark Mulac, a urologist with the Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Illinois. Mulac, 46, was once an avid lover of iced tea, downing up to six glasses a day of the popular summertime thirst-quencher. "I was a junkie on a bender. I had to have it every day," he said. "Iced tea was very refreshing, cheap to buy and easy to make." Unfortunately, Mulac was forced to go cold turkey. Iced tea helped to bring on an excruciating bout of kidney stones that led to surgery. "The pain was so bad that once it felt like I was delivering a child made out of razor blades," he said. "I really had no idea that iced tea could lead to that."

Why? Iced tea contains high concentrations of oxalate, one of the key chemicals that lead to the formation of kidney stones, a common disorder of the urinary tract that affects about 10 percent of the U.S. population. "For many people, iced tea is potentially one of the worst things they can drink," said Dr. John Milner, instructor, department of urology, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. "For people who have a tendency to form kidney stones, it's definitely one of the worst things you can drink." Kidney stones are crystals that form in the kidneys or ureters, the small tubes that drain the urine from the kidney to the bladder. Men are four times more likely to develop kidney stones than women, and their risk rises dramatically once they reach their 40s.

The most common cause of kidney stones is the failure to drink enough fluids. During the summer, people are generally more dehydrated due to sweating. The dehydration combined with increased iced tea consumption raises the risk of kidney stones, especially in people who are prone to develop them. "People are told that in the summertime they should drink more fluids," said Milner, who treated Mulac's kidney stones. "A lot of people choose to drink more iced tea, thinking it's a tastier alternative. However, in terms of kidney stones, they're getting it going and coming. They're actually doing themselves a disservice." The popularity of iced tea has grown dramatically with a whopping 1.91 billon gallons consumed a year in the U.S., according to the Tea Association of the U.S.A. Nearly 128 Americans drink the beverage daily. Much of iced tea's appeal is due to the belief that it is healthier than other beverages such as soda and beer.

So what should you drink? To quench thirst and to properly hydrate, there is no better alternative than water, Milner said. You might try flavoring it with lemon slices. Lemonade helps to ward off kidney stones. "Lemons are very high in citrates, which inhibit the growth of kidney stones," Milner said. "Lemonade, not the powdered variety that uses artificial flavoring, actually slows the development of kidney stones for those who are prone to the development of kidney stones." Milner said people concerned about developing kidney stones should cut back on eating foods that also contain high concentrations of oxalates such as spinach, chocolate, rhubarb and nuts. They should ease up on salt, eat meat sparingly, drink several glasses a water a day and don't avoid foods high in calcium, which reduces the amount of oxalate the body absorbs.
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