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Chaat could be hazardous!

Drinking black tea and gobbling snacks with rock salt can cause fluoride poisoning, writes Satyen Mohapatra.

india Updated: May 08, 2006 16:08 IST

Black tea is good for health. And what's better than a spicy chaat when you're watching your weight, right?

Well, doctors are playing killjoy again. Drinking black tea and gobbling snacks sprinkled with rock salt (kala namak)—- chaat being a good example —- can lead to fluoride poisoning, they warn.

"Very high levels of fluoride are used in processing tea leaves and therefore black tea or lemon tea can be dangerous," says executive director of Fluorosis Research and Rural Development Foundation Dr AK Susheela.

Add milk and you are safer "because milk has calcium which reacts with fluoride forming calcium fluoride which is not absorbed into the body and is excreted."

As for kala namak, it's nothing but fluoride rock powder which is added to most snacks and masala powders.

One of the major sources of fluoride contamination is not ground water, but food and food products (they count for almost 40 per cent of fluoride poisoning). Dental products (20 per cent), anti cholesterol, anti-infective and anti depressant drugs are the other culprits.

Dr Susheela said it had become necessary not only to test drinking water sources but carry out blood and urine test on patients showing signs of fluoride poisoning . "We have just two centres with diagnostic facilities in the country — one at our foundation and another at AIIMS," she added.

"We urge people not to use fluoridated toothpaste and instead go for ayurvedic herbal toothpaste which may contain very little fluoride, she said.

Nearly 66 million persons in the country, including 6 million children, are either afflicted with fluoride poisoning or are at a very high risk.

A high rate of male infertility is seen in areas with fluoride contamination. Fluorosis is endemic in 203 districts in 19 states of the country.

Excess fluoride can cause dental fluorosis in children leading to discoloration of teeth, said Dr Susheela.

Skeletal fluorosis —- symptoms are pain in the major joints of neck, shoulder,back and knee — can be excruciatingly painful and if left untreated can lead to restricted movement and paralysis.