The woman’s daily tea intake, a pitcher made with 100-150 tea bags, caused her to have extremely high levels of fluoride, resulting in contracting symptoms such as extremely dense bones and brittle teeth, according to a report on the case in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).
Doctors at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit found that the woman’s fluoride concentration in her blood was 0.43mg per liter, which is much higher than the normal concentration of less than 0.10mg per liter. They said that one pitcher of the woman’s strong tea added about 20mg of fluoride to her system each day.
“Most of us can excrete fluoride extremely well, but if you drink too much, it can be a problem,” said the report’s co-author Dr. Sudhaker Rao, director of the bone and mineral research laboratory at the Henry Ford Health System. “There have been about three to four cases reported in the U.S. associated with ingesting tea, especially large amounts of it.”
Serendipitously, Rao was particularly well-suited for the woman’s case, having come from an area in India where fluoride levels in the water were naturally high. People in this region have been known to suffer from a condition called skeletal fluorosis as a result of ingesting too much fluoride. After consulting with the woman, Rao suspected that she could be suffering from that very condition.
When Rao attempted to investigate the woman’s bones by performing a biopsy, her bones were so hard that his instrument could not penetrate them.
After receiving the diagnosis, the woman reduced her tea intake and her symptoms began to subside. Her body should remove the excess fluoride naturally, but doctors are considering taking additional steps, according to the report.
The doctors may use supplemental parathyroid hormone to speed the body’s removal of fluoride from the bone, but too high a dose would also increase bone density to unsafe levels, Rao said. Putting the woman on a low-calcium, low-vitamin D diet could also assist in the removal of fluoride from her bones.
Dr. Joseph Lane, a bone specialist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City who was not involved in the case, said the woman’s situation shows the risk associated with unusual diet, which some people might adopt in pursuit of better health.
Doctors recommend that anyone who is thinking about adopting a diet out of the mainstream should consult with their physician first. Lane said that people should take time to examine the ingredient labels of any unique beverage, food or supplement items.