Are Bubble Tea Pearls Safe? We Asked a Doctor for the Facts
Here's what you need to know about what's in your trendy tea drink.
You've probably heard the viral story of the teenager who reportedly had more than 100 undigested bubble tea pearls in her abdomen. Sounds scary, right? Well, it might not be as frightening as it seems. Doctors aren't convinced this could actually happen.
According to Asia One, the story began when a 14-year-old girl from China told her parents she had been constipated for five days, wasn't able to eat, and had serious stomach pain. A CT scan revealed about 100 "unusual spherical shadows" in the girl's abdomen. Those spheres were undigested bubble tea pearls, her doctors supposedly said.
The girl claimed that she drank only one bubble tea five days earlier, but her doctors said she would have needed to consume much more than that to have those symptoms.
Bubble tea pearls, or boba pearls, are usually made out of tapioca, a starch extracted from the roots of cassava plants. So here's where things start not adding up. Doctors here in the US who looked into the case said that tapioca and other ingredients typically found in bubble tea pearls wouldn't show up on an X-ray or CT scan. There had to be something unusual in the pearls the girl consumed for them to show on the scan.
Vladimir Kushnir, MD, spokesperson for the American Gastroenterological Association, tells Health that an indigestible additive may have been in the pearls, but it isn't clear what kind of additive that would be.
For all you bubble tea fans, don't worry, odds are pretty low of developing constipation and pain from your tea drink. However, Dr. Kushnir says that an additive sometimes used in bubble tea pearls, called guar gum, can cause constipation. Guar gum is a fiber that helps hold the balls together; it also expands when it comes in contact with water. Guar gum can actually be used to treat digestive issues, but when consumed in high amounts and with insufficient water, it can lead to constipation.
But again, you would have to be drinking a lot of bubble tea for it to affect your bowels. "One to two cups a day should be fine, but you shouldn't consume anything in excess," Dr. Kushnir advises. "If you’re drinking five or six cups a day, and you’re noticing a change in your bowels, it could be sign that you need to cut back or drink more water."
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