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A Balanced Risk–Benefit Analysis to Determine Human Risks Associated with Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids (PA)—The Case of Tea and Herbal Infusions

Habs, Michael, Binder, Karin, Krauss, Stefan, Müller, Karolina, Ernst, Brigitte, Valentini, Luzia, Koller, Michael
Nutrients 2017 v.9 no.7
carcinogens, decision making, drinking, foods, health effects assessments, humans, mutagens, neoplasms, product quality, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, quality control, risk communication, risk-benefit analysis, tea, toxicity, uncertainty, weeds
Humans are exposed to pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) through different sources, mainly from contaminated foodstuff. Teas and herbal infusions (T&HI) can be contaminated by PA producing weed. PA can possess toxic, mutagenic, genotoxic, and carcinogenic properties. Thus, possible health risks for the general population are under debate. There is a strong safety record for T&HI and additionally epidemiological evidence for the preventive effects of regular tea consumption on cardiovascular events and certain types of cancer. There is no epidemiological evidence, however, for human risks of regular low dose PA exposure. Recommended regulatory PA-threshold values are based on experimental data only, accepting big uncertainties. If a general risk exists through PA contaminated T&HI, it must be small compared to other frequently accepted risks of daily living and the proven health effects of T&HI. Decision making should be based on a balanced riskbenefit analysis. Based on analyses of the scientific data currently available, it is concluded that the benefits of drinking T&HI clearly outweigh the negligible health risk of possible PA contamination. At the same time, manufacturers must continue their efforts to secure good product quality and to be transparent on their measures of quality control and risk communication.