My best friend is retired and likes to cut out articles from various newspapers that he thinks I would be interested in.  He recently gave me an article from the Wall Street Journal titled “When Food and Pills Clash.”  The article includes a wheel showing a variety of foods/beverages on the outside and the different medications they interact with on the inside.  One to three medications are shown as negatively affected by each food or beverage, with one notable exception – black tea.  Black tea was listed as potentially having a negative effect on all drugs!  Specifically, the article stated that researchers had found that black tea:

 appears to inhibit an enzyme responsible for the body’s processing of many drugs.  The result, the researchers found, is that consuming large quantities of black tea could potentially increase the potency of a wide range of medications.



bad-pairings-320x321One of the most underrated – and under appreciated, but indispensable – organs in the body is the liver.  Weighing in as the largest and heaviest of all of our internal organs, it performs so many vital functions that, to this day, medical science has not been able to reproduce its function in any viable way, as it has with organs such as the kidneys or the heart, for example.  Fortunately, it is also the only organ in the human body that can regenerate itself.  Miraculously, you can lose 75% of your liver and still have it grow back into a full-size and functioning organ.

Over the years, as more and more people have embraced the importance of disease prevention and alternative forms of healing, we have seen an unprecedented surge in the sale and consumption of herbs, vitamins, nutraceuticals, and healthy foods and beverages, such as tea.  It has been a revolution, of sorts, to which the medical industry has been forced to sit up and take notice.  Part of the reason for their reluctance in addressing this phenomenon has been purely economic and part of it has been patient safety.  Never has there been a time when so many people have been consuming so many prescription pharmaceuticals while simultaneously taking so many of the aforementioned alternative medicines and healthy foods and beverages.  The result, to the great annoyance of the medical community, has been a significant increase in drug-herb, drug-vitamin, drug-nutraceutical, and drug-food/beverage interactions.  This, as you can imagine, does not make pharmaceutical companies or medical providers very happy.  So what is their solution?  Stop taking the offending agent that isn’t a drug.  Before I go on, first just a touch of science as background.

As stated above, the liver performs many critical functions, the most important of which is the filtering and processing of our nutrient-rich blood.  And, relevant to this post, that includes the breakdown, biosynthesis, and detoxification process, which occurs in two phases.  This is where all the drugs, vitamins, nutraceuticals, foods and beverages, and environmental toxins get broken down and transformed into harmless substances that can then be safely eliminated.  Phase I processing utilizes the Cytochrome P450 enzymatic pathways to break down and restructure the substances in the blood for preparation for elimination by Phase II.  It is during this Phase I process that all the above substances can interfere with the CYP450 enzymes.  This means that it can cause a drug you are taking to have a greater physiological effect (by inhibiting the enzyme that would normally break it down), or a reduced effect (by accelerating the effectiveness of the enzyme).  Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on your perspective), this effect can be caused by all of those different categories of alternative medicines and foods.  Actually, there are so many different drugs out there that just about anything we consume or ingest voluntarily or involuntarily could potentially have an interaction with one of them.  This is what the medical establishment gets so upset about.

So back to where I left off a couple of paragraphs ago.  The medical providers’ answer to this interaction problem is to tell patients to eliminate one or more of the previously mentioned substances (depending on the drug they are taking) from their regular consumption, for their own potential safety.  So, don’t drink healthy beverages such as tea or grapefruit, pomegranate, or cranberry juices, or consume Omega 3 fatty acids.  Really!  First of all, I’m not fully convinced that these substances are as problematic as stated.  But let’s assume for the sake of argument that they are.

Given that the bioactive substances in tea are some of the most active physiologically, and can affect the CYP450 system, tea is often one of the substances that medical providers tell their patients not to consume.  This is despite the fact that research continues to support tea as one of the healthiest and most beneficial natural products in existence.  Although, arguably, I am looking at this from the perspective of an alternative healthcare provider, it appears to me that logic would dictate that if you are consuming a healthy substance that increases a drug’s effect, wouldn’t it make sense to add more of the good stuff and less of the pharmaceutical to get the desired effect?  Tea is beneficial on so many levels for people, I would think healers would want to encourage its use in their patients and reduce the potential for the ubiquitous side-effects from drugs by lowering the amount of pharmaceuticals they take instead of eliminating tea consumption.  If you had a choice, which would you choose?

The Bad Pairings graphic shown above was taken from the Wall Street Journal article cited above.

This post was first published on October 27, 2011