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Monday, June 12, 2006

Yet another mystery solved

Without being indelicate or revealing too much, my wife occasionally suffers from bouts of, er, intestinal distress.  Oh who am I kidding... when one of these episodes strikes, she ends up in the fetal position for hours (or sometimes days) writhing in agony.

She has spoken to doctors and done intensive research on the Internet... but the source of her discomfort (there's an understatement) has managed so far to evade her.

Being a bit of a know-it-all when it comes to other people's illnesses, I have always assured her that it was certainly stress-related since her debilitating stomach cramps would almost always coincide with the run up to dinner parties or some other sort of entertaining.

However, I just read something on Snopes that made a little 100w light-bulb go on over my head.

We have always enjoyed making 'Sun Tea'. 

For those who don't know what this is, instead of brewing tea with boiling water and then placing this hot liquid in an already overworked fridge to chill... you simply take a big glass jar of cold water, hang some teabags into the water with the strings over the top, screw on the lid and put it out in the sun for a couple of hours.  The sun heats the water and brews the tea.  Very easy.

However, I just read that since this method only warms (rather than heats) the water, it encourages the growth of dangerous bacteria that are commonly found in the water, on the inside of the jar or even in the teabags!

"According to the Centers for Disease Control, using the sun's rays to make tea can facilitate the growth of bacteria. Tea steeped in a jar on your porch won't get any hotter than 130° Fahrenheit, about the temperature of a really hot bath and not nearly hot enough to kill nasties lurking either in the water or on the tea itself. For that, water needs to be heated to 195° for three to five minutes.

Alcaligenes viscolactis, a bacteria commonly found in water, consequently turns up in sun tea.  While the caffeine in black tea will help prevent that microbe from flourishing for a few hours, its effects won't last beyond that. Herbal teas are an even worse bet for brewing in sunlight because they tend to lack caffeine, which means even that barrier to Alcaligenes viscolactis turning your summertime drink into its own breeding ground is missing." (emphasis, mine)

Hellooooo... Not only do we tend to make a big jar of sun tea when we are getting ready to entertain, but my wife insists on preparing it with decaffeinated herbal teas so she can drink it an any time of the day.  Not only that, we routinely let it sit out on the counter (rather than taking up precious space in the fridge) and then simply add ice before serving.

It makes perfect sense that Zahava would suffer from these bacterial nasties while I never noticed a thing.  I have been to over 30 countries and drunk the water and eaten the local produce without any ill effect.  But my wife insists on using the Britta Filter even when we're at home because of her sensitivities to water-borne nasties.

Continuing to quote from Snopes:

"The following rules have been recommended for those who brew sun tea:

  • Use a container that has been scrubbed in warm, soapy water. As an additional precaution, dip the container in a bleach solution made with 1-1/2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water.
  • If the container has a spigot, clean it carefully after each use, preferably by taking it apart. If you can't clean inside the spigot, don't brew sun tea in that vessel — find yourself something else to use.
  • Do not leave tea to brew in the sunlight for more than three to four hours.
  • Do not prepare more tea than you plan to use that day.
  • Refrigerate the drink as soon as it is ready and keep it refrigerated.
  • Discard tea if it appears thick or syrupy. Those ropy strands are bacteria.
  • A safer alternative to "sun tea" is "refrigerator tea." To make it, fill a pitcher with a quart of cold water, add four to six tea bags, and refrigerate it at least six hours or overnight. Squeeze and remove the tea bags, and serve the tea over ice. "

No need to thank me honey... I'm a giver.

Source: Here


Posted by David Bogner on June 12, 2006 | Permalink


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YUP! Cause I'm all about thanking you for exposing my...um...more human failings.....Thought yesterday's first conversation was a tad...erm...frosty?

Here's me doing my Carnac impression. Wait while I hold the sealed envelope against my forward.... Yep! And the answer is a COLD FRONT!

Hang on while I open the envelope to reveal the question...
Ah, yes! "What meteorological event is quickly moving in your direction?"

Posted by: zahava | Jun 12, 2006 9:16:53 AM

Oh! And by the way... since you confiscated my sun tea container for your honey and limoncello endeavors I HAVE been making refridgerator tea.... Thanks for noticing.... :-)

Posted by: zahava | Jun 12, 2006 9:18:18 AM

I assume you have though of this, but lactose intolerance and celiac (gluten intolerence) are two of the most common stomach problems for Jews.


Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger | Jun 12, 2006 9:43:42 AM

Zahava... Boy, I didn't see that coming! Lemeseenow... I know that my wife (and likely many others out there) suffer from periodic debilitating stomach cramps for no apparent reason. I find a plausible reason for this unnecessary agony tied to something we (and likely many others) enjoy quite frequently for 2/3 of the year in our home. I proudly share this miraculous information that should spare the love of my life needless pain and suffering, and for my thoughtfulness I get... couch time. Yeah, that makes sense. [scratches head]

Yehudah... You left out retail intolerance, but yeah, she's looked into those. No, the timing seems to point directly at sun tea as the culprit! And yet... I'm still not feeling the love here. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 12, 2006 9:52:04 AM

Another marriage where the husband has a "tin tummy" and the wife is somewhat more sensitive....and Zahava, perhaps you should start your own blog in self-defense? Nothing like knowing the "enemy" has the same weapons you do to act as a deterrant...

Posted by: westbankmama | Jun 12, 2006 9:53:56 AM

Westbankmama... I actually encouraged Zahava to keep her own blog quite a while ago but she never followed through. The fact is, she has the 'keys' to my site and can post whenever the mood strikes her. To date she has only availed herself of this virtual soapbox on a few occasions.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 12, 2006 9:58:48 AM

Digestive distress- it is way too much fun not to blog about. Of course I only cover my own.

Can't wait to see what other fun topics are shared here in the lounge. :)

How about those Dodgers.

Posted by: Jack | Jun 12, 2006 10:39:10 AM

"Being a bit of a know-it-all when it comes to other people's illnesses, I have always assured her that it was certainly stress-related since her debilitating stomach cramps would almost always coincide with the run up to dinner parties or some other sort of entertaining."

--Yeah, that's what doctors told my mom for years and years, because telling a woman that her problems are caused by stress makes a man feel less helpless than just saying "you are sick and I don't know why."

In her case, they later created a genetic test and proved conclusively that she has Familial Meditteranean Fever. (You can Google that if you want)

"Stress-related" indeed. As in, "it's all in your head, deary."

David, that sucks man.

And, yes, I've been in a bad mood the last couple of days. And yes, I have "issues" when it comes to my mom and health care.

Zahava- when they figure out what is MEDICALLY wrong with you, I give you permission to make David sleep in the doghouse.

Meanwhile, try to lay off the sun tea, K?

Posted by: sarah | Jun 12, 2006 10:44:36 AM


I think sun tea must be quite acidy (teabags left in the jugt for 1-2 hours?) I let normal tea brew for 2 minutes, herbal ea for 5. Never longer. That's what it says on the packaging, anyway. You could also use smaller jugs, so you drink the tea quicker so it doesn't stand about the house for hours.

Also, if I may suggest don't put hot things in the fridge, because it's bad for the fridge and your electricity bill, too.

Posted by: magyarka | Jun 12, 2006 12:40:10 PM

sarah makes a good point. Every time doctors can't figure out what's wrong with a woman, they will say it's stress-related. Nuances of the old days when women were diagnosed with hysterics at the the drop of a hat.

Oh, and as far as sun-tea and stomach issues, that's one reason I never make sun tea.

I hope zahava feels better soon.

Posted by: seawitch | Jun 12, 2006 3:18:41 PM

Ah, my brother the Doctor. I'm so proud! :) and so modest, too! (oh wait, but that's a trait that runs consistantly through our family!)

Posted by: val | Jun 12, 2006 3:40:40 PM

at least there is one advantage to living in The cold North of England . NO SUN - NO SUN TEA.

Posted by: savta yaffa | Jun 12, 2006 4:18:07 PM

Or, it could be irritable bowel syndrome. Verrrrry common.

Posted by: psychotoddler | Jun 12, 2006 5:18:39 PM

Hey, by the way, if she gets a fever along with the stomache pains, and they happen only ocassionally (once every 1-3 months or so) then it's worth it to be checked for FMF, even if you are Ashkenazi. The occurance of FMF among Ashkenazim is much higher than most people think, because the gene most common among Ashkenazim causes a MILDER form of FMF than the form common among Sephardim. So a lot of Ashkenazim think they get the flu a lot (fever and stomache pains), when actually they have a genetic problem which can be controlled with medication.

Of course, I hope that this is NOT Zahava's problem, though I know that knowing what is wrong is much better than not knowing. I hope whatever it is, you find out soon and can be treated, or avoid whatever is triggering it.

Posted by: sarah | Jun 12, 2006 5:31:21 PM

Wow... I haven't even heard of the Sun Tea before. Am going to have to try it... but with all the precautions! : )

Posted by: Irina | Jun 12, 2006 6:12:52 PM

of course you know... to really be sure you must set up a test environment. which would involve Zahava to drink more of the stuff you suspect...

Posted by: lisa | Jun 12, 2006 6:36:43 PM

Where are Dr. Bean and wanderer when you need them?

Course you could just boil the water, make the tea and let it cool outside slowly.

Posted by: lisoosh | Jun 12, 2006 7:18:41 PM

Unlikely to be bacterial, whether from Sun Tea or not. You probably wouldn't get better spontaneously (It would be easy to prove with a stool culture). Maybe it's the acidity of the tea, but that could easily be relieved with an antacid. Whoever mentioned irritable bowel syndrome may have a point, although that is one of those catch all diagnoses. Still, a high fiber, low fat diet often helps, and stress can be a factor.
Then again, Sun Tea certainly sounds more interesting....

Posted by: Jersey Boy | Jun 12, 2006 8:21:27 PM

Isn't Crohn's & Colitis also something that tend to inflict Ashkenazi Jews more? Just a thought.

BTW...warning..be careful looking up FMF. I just did and a very graphic porn site opened up. Guess it serves me right for blogging at work!

Posted by: jaime | Jun 12, 2006 9:58:20 PM

Okay, I'm going to ask... gently, though, considering the response jaime got -- what exactly is FMF?

Posted by: zahava | Jun 12, 2006 10:34:07 PM

Interesting, but you haven't fulfilled all of Koch's postulates yet. This would be essential to establish causality between the bacteria in the Sun Tea and Zahava's affliction.

May I suggest an experiment? Go ahead and brew a final batch of Sun Tea, ensuring that you use the same technique as always, and most importantly, without any company scheduled to arrive. Both of you should then consume the brew in the same quantities you usually do. Then, wait and see what happens. If the symptoms recur, you have fulfilled Koch's postulates and causality can be established! If not, do the opposite experiment, this time having company come over and don't make the tea. Either way, your theory can be scientifically tested.

Of course, this is ethically shaky ground here, and may cross the line towards human experimentation, but a cold front is blowing through anyway, so you might as well let this experiment ride on the same frosty breeze...

Posted by: wanderer | Jun 12, 2006 10:47:44 PM

ACIDOPHILUS might help Zahava....helps to restore the balance in the stomach etc. of good and bad bacteria. Just a suggestion.

Feel good...

Posted by: EmahS | Jun 12, 2006 11:05:52 PM

Zahava, I too was perplexed until I reread Sarah's comment.

"In her case, they later created a genetic test and proved conclusively that she has Familial Meditteranean Fever. (You can Google that if you want)"

I did google it and I somehow clicked on a site that jumped into some very graphic pictures.

Posted by: jaime | Jun 12, 2006 11:16:06 PM

I would assume that Zahava has already seen a doctor and gone through the appropriate testing for this (like a scope)?

I'd hate for her to have all of us practicing medicine on her.

Also consider diverticulitis.

Personally, I have given up all food but cheerios and chicken. Only "ch" words.

Posted by: psychotoddler | Jun 13, 2006 12:20:26 AM

wanderer -

Uhm, actually, you'd need to do a heck of a lot more to prove Koch's postulates. True, you suggestion is a good start, but it's only a start.

(Sorry, I've taken too much immunology lately to let that one past. ;) )


Posted by: matlabfreak | Jun 13, 2006 2:35:35 AM

Wow. After reading this post, I rolled my chair to my mother's computer and warned her against leaving her gallon of tea out on the porch.

Because if a gastro-intestinal disorder affects one in the house, it affects us *all*.


Posted by: Kate | Jun 13, 2006 2:41:50 AM

For Microbiology we had to press our freshly washed hair onto a Petri dish and see what grows. WELL. I knew bacteria were ubiquitous but this much ubiquity is ridiculous. The more I know the more I fear kitchens. Poor Zahava!

Posted by: Lioness | Jun 13, 2006 5:29:57 AM

Sorry to hear about the porn . . .

FMF stands for "Familial Mediterranean Fever," which I'd mentioned in a previous comment (but spelled incorrectly there; here it is correct). If you plug that into Google, you'll be directed to a bunch of medical sites that describe the "indications" of FMF - some in English, and some in medical-ese.

Basically, people with FMF will, every so often, get "attacks" of fever, severe abdominal pain, and perhaps some combination of other symptoms, such as dehydration, low hematocrit, red blotches on the legs.

Among Sephardim, FMF attacks are VERY strong and can last for two weeks. The attacks start out really acute, and then get better slowly.

Among Ashkenazim, the FMF attacks are usually milder - just a couple days of fever and pain, then it goes away. It's so mild that most people with the gene do not realize they have a problem more than getting the "flu" a lot. I wrote an article about FMF, and one of the main researchers on the disease told me he studied blood samples from Ashkenazim in New York, and one in one hundred had the gene (not carriers; had FMF themselves, just didn't know it).

Once FMF is diagnosed, the patient can take colchicine, which generally (for 98% of patients) eliminates or reduces the attacks.

(Unfortunately, there are exceptions to everything. My mother has severe FMF, even though she's Ashkenazi, and she doesn't respond so much to colchicine. However, a doctor tried putting her on Interferon a couple years ago, and that has been AMAZING. Huge difference in my mother's quality of life! Go, new doctor! Go, interferon!)

Posted by: sarah | Jun 13, 2006 8:06:43 AM

Jack... Of course, blogging about one's spouse's medical complaints sometimes leads to medical complaints of one's own. Go Sox.

Sarah... I wasn't saying 'it's all in your head, honey' or accusing her of having hysterics. Stress related physical ailments are a real problem and are just now starting to be understood.

Magyarka... actually it isn't bitter at all. The instruction you quoted are for steeping in boiling water. When you only warm the water in the sun the tea flavoring comes out much slower.

Seawitch... She is actually feeling fine these days (we haven't made sun tea yet this season. But p;lease don't think I am one of those men who dismisses all female complaints as hysterics.

Val... Mom should be so lucky to have had a doctor, :-)

Savta Yaffa... Too true. :-)

Psychotoddler... She looked into that. She has the first part down... but it doesn't seem to be confined to the bowel. [running and dodging flying kitchen appliances]

Irina... Did you read the part where I wrote that it wasn't healthy? :-)

Lisa... Oh yeah, cuz getting her sick is really something she is going to sit still for.

Lisoosh... that sort of defeats the purpose.

Jersey Boy... Oh great, another MD to tear apart my well-reasoned diagnosis. :-)

Jaime... No sign of either.

Zahava... Oh yeah, I forgot I grabbed your Sun Tea container. See... there's one more thing you have to thank me for! :-)

Wanderer... What is it with you and Lisa? Do you really want me to poison my wife??? :-)

EmahS... Zahava is already a big yogurt fan.

Psychotoddler... You mean, like go and actually have a doctor examine her? It's so much more fun to arrive at a diagnosis by consensus here on the net, no?

Kate... See, that's what I tell my wife. If even one person benefits from my craziness and lack of regard for her privacy then it's totally worthwhile! :-)

Lioness... Ewww!

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 13, 2006 4:05:53 PM

Trep - it the purpose making tea or is it stopping Zahava from suffering?

Posted by: lisoosh | Jun 13, 2006 6:53:36 PM

Discard tea if it appears thick or syrupy. Those ropy strands are bacteria.

ooh. yuck.

Personally, I think Snopes is right. Don't drink that stuff. It's just a bacteria playground.

Posted by: mirty | Jun 15, 2006 5:30:25 AM

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