Too much tea raises the risk of rheumatoid arthritis: Study

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) a severely debilitating inflammatory disease of the joints is on the rise worldwide. It leads to severe pain, stiffness, swelling and loss of movement of joints like knees, wrist and even fingers. RA affects women more than men. RA occurs in people who develop a rogue immune system that attacks the tissue that lines the joint cavities called the synovium leading to degeneration of the joints and the symptoms of the disease. In 1995 36.4 per 100,000 women were diagnosed with RA whereas in 2005 the number rose to 54 per 100,000 women.

At present pain relievers called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and some advanced drugs called DMARDs (Disease Modifying Anti Rheumatoid arthritis Drugs) are being used for treatment with the disease remaining incurable. Emphasis on diet, nutritional supplements and exercise has been put for a long time in RA therapy for prevention and mitigation.

Now a new study from Georgetown University has shown that drinking tea raised the risk of RA in post-menopausal women. The study involved more than 76,000 women between the ages of 50 and 79 in the US and found significant association between tea consumption in any amount and a 40 percent rise in the risk of getting RA. Women who took more than 4 cups of tea per day upped the risk by as much as 78 percent. Effects of black tea were assessed in this study and green and herbal teas were excluded. Coffee, filtered and otherwise and caffeinated and decaffeinated has no similar effect. The study was presented at the Annual Congress of the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) 2010 in Rome.

Professor Christopher Collins, from Georgetown University Medical Centre in the US, said, “We set out to determine whether tea or coffee consumption, or the method of preparation of the drinks was associated with an increased risk of (rheumatoid arthritis)…It is surprising that we saw such differences in results between tea and coffee drinkers. This does make us wonder what it is in tea, or in the method of preparation of tea that causes the significant increase in risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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  1. Bill Kilvert Bill Kilvert Australia says:

    Tea leaves have a high level of fluoride and it has been documented that too much fluoride can cause arthritis as well as many other ailments. Naturally, if you brew your tea with fluoridated water, there will be a higher level of fluoride in your tea. This can
    only add to ones suffering.

    Research is also showing that Rheumatoid Arthritis can cause heart attacks over long term. SO, cut down on your intake of tea, or better still, find a herbal tea that you like!

    • Joanne N. Zolnierek Joanne N. Zolnierek United States says:

      Oh Great .. I don't drink, nor smoke, nor do anything that would be considered bad for my health ... but since I was diagnosed with RA back in 2000, I have always had several cups of tea a day, with meals, or Ice Tea.  We have well water so there isn't any flouride in my water.  I love my Tea .. I drink, Green, white, black never herbal, as I am allergic to too many of them!! This is NOT fair!!! sigh ... I'll just wait a week or two and they will change their minds!!  Although, I do like a good cup of coffee too ... *smiles*!! JoZ

  2. Barbara Holtzman Barbara Holtzman United States says:

    This study contradicts every other study ever done. Fluoride? it was my first thought that the water used could be a confounder. I think when a single study is so contrary to previous studies, that you have to look at the researchers, their methods, and their study population, rather than "what is it about tea?" What about the genetic risk in the study population? If you are at zero risk of RA, then what? More to check here, and I will look up the study and do so.

    • Richard Carlson Richard Carlson United States says:

      Barbara Holtzman:  Yes, "look up the study", and let us know if you can find a few holes in it (even a pinch of reasonable doubt would be nice).
      R. Carlson

    • Flo Flo United States says:

      Teaman and Barbara:

      This correlation is very well documented all over the world.  There are many studies linkibng skeletal fluorosis (you can call it arthritis if you want) and Camellia Sinensis in high tea consumption countries.  

      "Peer reviewed" studies are funded by moneyed interests to support their corporations and endsure ever increasing profit.  The tea industry has a huge lobby as does the coffee industry.  Do you really think they are interested in all your scientific methods that would come to the conclusion that the one product that is creating wealth for so few is harmful to their customers.  Do you really think the care?  "Peer reviewed" = Corporate approval

      • david ankrapp david ankrapp United States says:

        Being a research scientist, "Peer-reviewed" means that the data and the conclusions in the article were reviewed by other competent scientists in that particular field prior to publication (in this case, nutrition and disease) does NOT mean that the research was supported my 'moneyed interests".  Please don't make blanket statements about something you obviously don't know about...

        Also, when studies "appear" to contradict themselves, it usually means that there were several variables (also known as "confounding factors") in the studies that were not accounted is VERY difficult for any study to account for ALL the variables between people that link diet to disease (i.e. ethnicity, lifestyle, disease history, inherent (i.e. genetic) metabolic differences, home & work environmental, hours of sleep, stress levels, etc.), these variable are endless...and even very well-designed studies can't account for all the variability between humans....

  3. Teaman Teaman Singapore says:

    Interesting how statistics can be twisted. In the same way, one can also demonstrate that women who use birth control are more likely to have traffic accidents. Fact is the incidence of both have increased but there is no causal association. The EULAR President himself cautions that there is no causal relationship as this is an observational study. The coffee companies seem to think differently as their interestingly worded release makes it way around the newspapers.

  4. ziad ziad United States says:

    Teaman and Barbara Holtzman:

    The leaves of the Camellia Sinensis (Black Tea) plant abosorbs more industrial fluoride from pollution than any other plant.  Fluorosis is linked to excess fluoride exposure.  The symptoms we assocciate with "arthritis" are strikingly similar to fluoride overdose.  If anyone is being "creative with the facts" it is the American Dental Association, Phosphate Fertilizer Industry (who is doing the polluting) and Water treatment plants who take this industrial waste and dump it into our water supply and deny any association between Fluoride and Arthritis.  Coffee and Black Tea are BOTH toxic because they contain caffeine which stress out your adrenal gland system.  BLack Tea maybe worse because of it's unnatural fluoride content that is not indigenous to the plant.  

    Joanne Z - You said you drink a lot of tea and you have been diagnosed with Arthritis.  Team says "not to worry"  I would reconsider.  Get off of tea for 2 weeks and watch the improvment!  I guarantee it.  I am a male and cured my arthritis by eliminating black tea

    • luke luke United Kingdom says:

      Hi, normally people say drink lots of tea if you have RA but when I do especially cheaper tea my joints will swell it's just like gout but I've been tested twice for gout and aparently I don't have it, but if I drink red wine, stout I also suffer.

      I wish I new exactly what causes the swelling but at least I know Tea it took me 20 years to work it out, the doctors said it was phycosomatic just shows how little they know.

      I'm interested to know your experience especially if you know any natural alternatatives to NSAIDs

  5. Maude St John Maude St John Australia says:

    I've recently given up smoking and have been drinking more cups of tea a day (and stronger) than usual.  I have notice my joints, especially my knees & wrists/fingers being really sore.  I do have RA and take NSAID for that, but have really noticed significanlty more pain in the joints.  I've only just read these articles on "Black Tea" and RA and I will definitely be cutting down on my tea, and see if it makes a difference

  6. Ricky Ricky Ireland says:

    I had niggling pains in my back along with ulcerative colitis.
    Loved 4 or 5 cups of tea every day. Never made the connection between tea and being unwell.

    Quit tea two weeks ago. Never felt better. Greatly reduced back pain. Even the colitis has gone into remission.

    Wish I had know this 15 years ago. Much suffering might have been avoided.

  7. k billingsley k billingsley United States says:

    I cannot drink tea either because it causes me crippling joint pain. It took me a long time to make the correlation, but I am glad I did. At 54, I am more active than ever since childhood.

  8. Bobbie Jones Bobbie Jones United States says:

    About 7 Years I experienced severe joint pain with no explanation (in my late 30's, F)  I went on a 2 week vacation with tons of walking in which my routine changed a felt FANTASTIC.  When I came home I really questioned how could that be?  I realized during that 2 weeks my routine of drinking approx. 2 cups of tea(Bigelow) changed as I did not drink any.  I stopped drinking tea and never had the problem.  I started to drink Starbucks Chai Tea as a drink now and then and bought some to make at home.  I was achy all over and then my joints started to swell---and I was like WOW---here I am again same issue, I literally forgot how severe the pain was and a different tea type BOOM--very sick with pain ----will STOP again and NEVER drink tea again of any kind !  This is a REAL issue and needs to be communicated more to the public.

  9. Mary Young Mary Young Canada says:

    I've been drinking tea since I was 10 years old - yes you read that right, but only this year have I had debilitating joint pain in my knees. There must be other things in addition to tea that cause the joint pain. I don't know if I can give it up as I love it so much. I'd probably end up drinking sodapop if I had to give up tea and that's not good for a person to drink.

  10. T Timu T Timu New Zealand says:

    This study hasn't been confirmed in the intervening years.  More importantly, the Iowa Women's Health Study, a well-designed and carefully conducted prospective cohort study with a 31,336 study population, found no such thing.  (abstract here:

    Their findings:  4 or more cups of decaf coffee had a risk of RA just over 2x that of the normal population.   Normal coffee and tea did not change the risk at all.

    I am posting this here because some naturopath has published an article in our local newspaper declaring that tea consumption is associated with RA.  (She is also marketing her own brand of herbal tea).  Life is difficult enough for people with RA without being put off drinking tea or coffee in normal amounts.

    TLDR:  This study's results appear to have been a one-off.  Since the study is not named and I can't find it, I can't comment on  its design, but I suspect the design contains weaknesses that have led to confounding of the result.

  11. Jordan Schwartz Jordan Schwartz United States says:

    As someone who has had rheumatoid arthritis for just over 12 years (I was diagnosed three weeks after my 9th birthday), I couldn't disagree with this any more. I had never been a tea drinker in my life, no matter how much it was recommended to help relax me, I always refused. I never liked it so I wouldn't drink it.
    However, after I turned 18, I started having severe flare-ups that made it nearly impossible to even hold a spoon. I decided to give tea a try due to being lactose intolerant so hot cocoa at the time was definitely not a good idea, and the tea actually relaxed me a little bit enough to help me feel a bit better.
    It didn't entirely fix it, but it has never made it worse since I began drinking it when having severe flare-ups over the past three years.

    I'd love to see how the data was even correlated for the study though. Because, as a current college student, the main thing drilled into my brain through my psychology courses is that correlation does not always equal to causation.

  12. Ria Williams Ria Williams United States says:

    For years I suffered from serious knee pains, and I was drinking many cups of tea all day. In 2006 I was diagnosed with RA and I never knew the correlation between it and tea until two days ago. I stopped drinking tea and I have felt no pain and my knees are much lighter.
    I guess the swelling is also gone.
    The good thing is that all these years I refused pain medication and exercise through the pain.
    Knowledge is Key!!!

  13. Mary Newman Mary Newman United States says:

    In the past I noticed an irritable bladder when I drank black tea so I rarely drink it. Recently I picked up some white tea after sampling a refreshing mix with it at Starbucks. I woke up with pain in my right hip next day. I was able to ease the pain adding turmeric root to a smoothie. I've been scratching my head trying to think what may have triggered this weird pain. At least now I'm very suspicious of tea, not sure yet but it will be interesting to see if I forget about it in two years and have the same experience.  Incidentally, I drink coffee every day and have no issue with it.

  14. Joel Pullem Joel Pullem United States says:

    I'm so glad I found this post. This makes so much sense. I'm a very active and fit person that takes pride in my health. I gave up my coffee habit less than 8 weeks ago and replaced it with many cups of fresh brewed green tea leaves from morning to evening. Roughly 6-8 12oz cups a day. My left knee feels as if its being stabbed with a hot coal poker. Also, all of my joints have been cracking and popping. Ankles, knees, hips, back, neck, shoulders, elbows and wrists. I'm immediately going to cut back to 1 cup for breakfast and see if there is improvement before I seek medical opinions. Thank you all for enlightening me with the previous threads!!!! Too much of a good thing can most likely be bad for you!

  15. Julia Jones Julia Jones Canada says:

    I found this out 20 years ago when I stayed with a friend who was not a tea drinker. Being from England. I was totally addicted to my cuppa, but after 2 weeks went home and soon found the first cup of tea made my joints ache  as before I stopped my tea habit. I thought I couldnt live without my many cups of tea but pain is a great cup of tea 3 days I learned to live without .

  16. Bornique Jordan Bornique Jordan Guyana says:

    I tend to want to believe there is some relationship to something we were consuming over a long period of time that causes the RA to develop in our system, like for example RICE, this is something that I for one was using everyday for the pass 48 years, Now tea yes for over 25 years everyday....Something to think about, And today August 19, 2022 i did not take tea, and i am not crashing and feeling tired and fatigue. I definitely will now be looking closely to see what I can do to better my over all feeling its now easy. I'm very tired and depressed.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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