Bubble tea: why this trendy drink must be consumed in moderation

When temperatures rise, the desire for freshness grows stronger. To beat the heat and quench your thirst, we turn to refreshments, such as milkshakes, smoothies or lemonade. Among the essential drinks of the summer, there is also bubble tea, a trendy drink from Taiwan. It is a mixture of green tea, black tea or fruit juice, mixed or not with milk, as desired, and all embellished with tapioca pearls to suck.

While this drink is perfect for cooling off in summer, it is not without health risks. And for good reason, an 18-year-old Chinese man was hospitalized last month after suffering from pain and inflammation in the joints of his hands and feet. The bubble tea enthusiast was unable to move his limbs because they were swollen to abnormal dimensions. The young man, originally from the city of Foshan in the province of Guangdong in the south of China, explained that his hands and feet “turned to stone”.

Too much bubble tea can cause a gout attack

When the young man was taken to the hospital, he was actually having a gout attack. “Gout has symptoms such as pain, redness and swelling in the joints (…). When the patient arrived, the gout affected all four of his limbs and prevented him from walking”, explained to the Chinese newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily Dr. Zheng Shaoling, rheumatologist at the Guangdong Second Hospital.

Who is responsible for this gout attack? The bubble tea. Indeed, the teenager admitted that this serious reaction was caused by his excessive consumption and his addiction to drink. He drank at least a glass of bubble tea a day. This ultra-high sugar drink (a 500ml glass of bubble tea contains up to 92g of sugar, about three times more than a 320ml can of Coca-Cola, according to an experiment commissioned by Channel NewsAsia) increases the production of uric acid. When uric acid is in excess in the blood, it is gradually deposited in the body in the form of crystals, especially in the joints. This phenomenon causes inflammatory reactions. Also, an abnormally high level of uric acid in the blood, also called hyperuricemia, is the cause of gout.

“The teenager’s uric acid levels were very high. We put him on an anti-inflammatory drug and were able to reduce his uric acid levels by half.”, said Dr Zheng Shaoling. She said he was making more and more progress: “he is now able to stand and walk, but we will have to continue to monitor his condition”. The young man left the hospital on July 14.

This gout attack was the second the teenager suffered. The patient revealed that he had already suffered a gout attack four years earlier, at the age of 14, due to an unbalanced diet. At that time, the young man had not followed the advice of his previous doctor. But this time around, he promised to never drink bubble tea again.

Excessive consumption of bubble tea can be harmful to health

“Cases of gout are appearing more and more often in young patients, including those under the age of 20”, remarked Dr. Zheng Shaoling. The teenager with gout is not the only one to have had health problems due to a drinking addiction. In June 2019, a Chinese woman was hospitalized after consuming too much bubble tea. The teenager suffered from constipation, an upset stomach and lost her appetite because tapioca pearls were stuck in her stomach, intestines and rectum.

Another mishap: last July, a bubble tea lover spent five days in a diabetic coma after drinking two glasses of bubble tea every day for an entire month. The doctors found her blood sugar levels 25 times higher than normal and put the patient on a ventilator and hemodialysis. To avoid any health problem caused by an excess of bubble tea, it should be drunk in moderation.

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