Bergamot is commonly used to make Earl Grey tea, which is composed of black tea and bergamot oil. The oil is extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange -- a citrus fruit native to Italy -- giving Earl Grey its characteristic flavor. As with other teas, it's likely safe for healthy adults. The safety of drinking Earl Grey during pregnancy is unknown, so it's best to avoid it while pregnant or breast-feeding. In addition, some people may be allergic to Earl Grey tea.
Potential Health Benefits
Like other teas, Earl Grey contains a mixture of polyphenols -- beneficial plant compounds. Black teas contain two major groups of polyphenols known as theaflavins and thearubigins. Although definitive evidence is needed, in general tea is considered heart-healthy. The black tea in Earl Grey may help protect against heart disease, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. Tea can also be a good substitute for soft drinks, which many Americans need to cut back on.
Bergamot oil contains a substance called bergapten, which is a potassium channel blocker, according to a April 2002 case report in the journal "Lancet." Bergamot in moderate amounts is unlikely to cause problems. However, the case report warns of a patient who experienced electrolyte disturbance from drinking excess Earl Grey tea, due to the potassium channel-blocking effects. The symptoms included muscle cramps, muscle twitches, tingling sensations and blurred vision.
Avoid Using as a Statin Replacement
PubMed Health warns that Earl Grey is not a replacement for statins -- cholesterol-lowering medication. A media outlet reported that Earl Grey is as good as statins for fighting heart disease, but the claim is unsubstantiated, according to PubMed. The claims are based on an animal study examining the effect of bergamot on cholesterol. However, without human studies there is no way to know whether it lowers cholesterol in humans. There is little evidence to support the use of Earl Grey for lowering cholesterol, according to PubMed Health. Do not stop taking statins or replace them with tea containing bergamot, urges PubMedHealth.
Drug Interactions and Caffeine
Because Earl Grey -- and tea in general -- contains biologically active compounds, it has potential to interact with your medication. Consult with your doctor first if you're currently taking medicine. In addition, a typical 8-ounce glass of brewed Earl Grey contains about 57 milligrams of caffeine. Too much caffeine can raise your blood pressure, make you jittery and interfere with your sleep. A moderate intake of 100 to 200 milligrams is considered safe, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
- Lancet: Earl Grey Intoxification
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: CFR -- Code of Federal Regulations Title 21
- Linus Pauling Institute: Tea and Chronic Disease Prevention
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: Caffeine Content of Food & Drugs
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Caffeine and Your Body
- PubMed Health: Earl Grey Unproven as Replacement for Statins