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A 56-year-old man in Arkansas entered the hospital in May 2014 after experiencing body aches, nausea, weakness, and fatigue. He never left the hospital, and doctors were stumped at his cause of death. Although the man suffered from kidney failure, he didn’t exhibit any telltale signs that would point towards the disease. What killed him?
The man’s medical record didn’t reveal a history of kidney stones and his family record was clean of the disease. He hadn’t yet received dialysis or been treated for any ongoing kidney problems. Until that hospital visit, the man hadn’t visited the hospital for any form of chronic disease. Yet his kidney biopsy revealed a condition called oxalate nephropathy. A new report from the New England Journal of Medicine revealed the hidden culprit behind the man’s untimely demise. This was a bizarre case of Death By Iced Tea.
Upon consultation with the man, doctors at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences learned that the man nursed a daily iced tea habit. He didn’t simply enjoy a few glasses on occasion. The man drank at least 16 8-ounce glasses every day for decades. This adds up to over a gallon of iced tea (or about 4 liters) per day. His preference was for the black iced tea variety, which arrives with about 50-100 milligrams of oxalate for every 100 milliliters.
To put this amount into perspective, the average person only consumes 150-500 milligrams of oxalate per day. This man drank at least 1500 milliliters on a habitual basis. As one can imagine, the man’s consumption of oxalate added up to a significant and life-threatening amount. No wonder doctors discovered that his urine sentiment contained “a presence of abundant calcium oxalate crystals.”
Medical staff attempted to save the man, who quickly headed into acute renal failure, with dialysis. But it was too late. Although he was otherwise healthy, the man’s renal failure progressed so quickly that he died within days. His renal biopsy revealed “many oxalate crystals, interstitial inflammation with eosinophils, and interstitial edema consistent with a diagnosis of oxalate nephropathy.”
Doctors still aren’t certain whether the man drank sweetened or unsweetened tea or whether either variety would present a greater risk. This isn’t the first recorded case of acute oxalate nephropathy — people have suffered the condition after consuming mass amounts of star fruit, rhubarb, and peanuts — but it’s the first time doctors have observed death by iced tea. Black tea contains the highest amount of oxalate of any type of tea. In this case, doctors are virtually certain that the man’s diet wasn’t a factor in his absurdly high oxalate level. He simply drank far too much iced tea.
Source: New England Journal of Medicine