Many turn to bubble tea as a cool treat on a hot day. But a report from the digital news outlet Asia One makes us wonder whether loving bubble tea is a problem. According to the website, a 14-year-old visited a Chinese hospital with stomach pains after experiencing constipation for five days. Doctors believe that she drank so much bubble tea that about a hundred tapioca pearls built up in her body, causing a blockage, according to the story.
Wait, can that actually happen? Probably not.
“This seems kind of like a sensationalized story. If there is anything to be taken away here it is taking things with a grain of salt and enjoying things in moderation,” Dr. Ryan Marino, an emergency medicine physician at UPMC in Pittsburgh, told TODAY.
While he admits it could be possible for tapioca — what makes the bubbles in bubble tea — to build up, he’s never heard of it occurring to anyone. He believes that uncooked, or undercooked tapioca (the pearls are cooked by boiling with sugar), would be more likely to cause a blockage than cooked tapioca. That's because cooked tapioca, also known as boba, can dissolve better as the heat has already softened it.
“The uncooked boba is probably more problematic,” he said.
He also thinks someone would have to drink massive amounts of bubble tea to have a problem. Allegedly, the girl admitted to having one bubble tea.
“You have a lot of bowel and you have a lot of space (in the bowel). For something soft like tapioca to be moved along, it is the normal job of the bowel. Constipation is normally from the more solid or harder things to digest,” Marino explained.
Marino has seen a few cases of sunflower seeds with the shells on them congealing together into a big ball and causing constipation in patients, for example. But many causes of constipation are often unknown.
“There many many causes of constipation and for many cases we don’t have a good explanation for it,” Marino said. “Diet plays a role, the amount of water that people drink could make them more or less constipated. Someone drinking too much boba and getting a big blockage is kind of extreme.”
But, the sugar in bubble tea could contribute to constipation by making someone more dehydrated.
“If you are drinking something with sugar it is probably not hydrating,” he said.
The bottom line? Drink bubble tea sparingly.
“This is the first case I have ever heard of. If people want to enjoy their boba they should be safe,” he said.