Earl Grey tea, tea drinkers

Q. You briefly mentioned Earl Grey tea causing leg cramps. You suggested oil of bergamot used for flavoring can interfere with potassium absorption. Eliminating the tea was an instant cure for a persistent problem with muscle cramps. I just wanted you to know.

A. Earl Grey tea gets its distinctive flavor from the citrus fruit bergamot. The oil contains a natural compound called bergapten that can interfere with the flow of potassium into and out of cells.

This is presumed to be the reason that too much Earl Grey tea can cause muscle cramps in susceptible people (The Lancet, April 27, 2002). We’re glad you were able to conquer your muscle cramps by giving up the tea.

Many people assume that tea is much safer than coffee. That is not always the case.

Readers Share Stories About Tea and Trouble:

J.L.G. confirms a link between tea and leg cramps:

“My severe leg cramps were definitely attributable to green tea. I stopped drinking it and they went away. I drink a lot of black tea (it’s my coffee!) and it does not cause me any cramping problems.”

This comes from Bill the Psychiatrist, MD:

“My wife’s leg cramps (worse at night) are due to drinking tea (green). And a cup of hot chocolate at bedtime helps her because the calcium and magnesium also cause muscle cramps to disappear. Night leg
cramps is a common condition.”

Maria shared this:

“I found that Earl Grey tea was making my asthma a lot worse. Stopped drinking it and got better within a few days.”

Donna adds:

“Although I have never had a problem with Earl Grey tea, I discovered (thanks to the Graedons’ book, Best Choices from the People’s Pharmacy) that I had a sensitivity to chamomile tea. The stomach cramps that I was experiencing went away immediately after discontinuing my daily cup of chamomile.”

S.J.H. also writes about Earl Gray Tea:

“I had been experiencing leg pain for some time and read your article about Earl Grey tea — my favorite. I stopped drinking Earl Grey and the pain immediately went away and has not come back. Thanks!”

If you want to learn more about the book Donna found so helpful, here is a link.


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  1. Sharon

    Some Earl Grey teas use artificial flavoring instead of oil of bergamot. I wonder if that would eliminate the problem of cramping.

  2. Cindy M. Black
    Seattle, WA

    Good grief!! A few months ago I heard that tea had arsenic — and quite a bit, too! NOW, it may be responsible for muscle cramps?! I drink quite a bit of green tea, and in fact I do have muscle cramps at night, though not very many. But you’d think I’d have none at all because I do have soap under the sheets. Now I guess I’ll have to forego the tea to test whether that might be to blame. But green tea has so many positive health properties, I’ll probably keep drinking it, arsenic and leg cramps notwithstanding. Sheesh.

  3. Karen

    I tried Earl Grey tea many years ago. I liked the taste but it caused an immediate reaction every time. My tongue would get a thick coating. Yuck!

  4. alxzba

    reader comments, please.

    • Diane

      Love Earl Gray tea but can stop. Also taking a cholesterol lowering supplement with 500 mg of bergamot. Is this too much? Take magnesium but still have cramps. Also taking green tea supplement.

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