Are you someone who’s overlooked the health benefits of drinking tea? Consumed for thousands of years in Asia, tea has long been associated with health benefits.
Like coffee, cocoa and a lot of other plant foods, tea contains hundreds of biologically active chemicals; a wide range of flavonoids and other polyphenols, which can be absorbed and used by the body. Making up about one-third of the weight of dried tea leaves, polyphenols have antioxidant and other potentially beneficial properties.
The chemical composition of tea depends on the variety, how the tea plant is grown, where it’s grown and how it’s processed. Green tea, for example, is rich in catechins, including the potent antioxidant EGCG and in Asia, is minimally processed—the leaves are steamed, rolled and dried.
In black tea, the catechins convert into other compounds during fermentation. Black tea is withered, rolled or crushed, and then “fermented” (oxidized, or exposed to oxygen) before being dried, which makes it black and stronger in taste. Oolong tea — which is partly fermented — falls between black and green teas in composition.
While there are some clear cut benefits of drinking tea, it should be understood that these benefits are dependent on various factors such as the make up of the tea leaves; the genes of each individual; the dietary context in which the tea is consumed; even the colonic microflora, which is the bacteria living in the small intestine.
In general, drinking a cup of warm tea can have calming benefits, and especially black tea promotes quicker recovery from stressful events. Drinking several cups of green tea daily can reduce psychological stress. Tea also provides protection against depression, weight gain, diabetes, infections and chronic disease, while also providing support for heart and bone health.
CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH: Studies have found that people who consume moderate or high amounts of green or black tea have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and, especially, stroke — usually with higher consumption linked to greater benefit. Research has also shown that tea can slightly lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as improve blood vessel functioning, reduce inflammation, inhibit blood clotting and have other cardiovascular effects.
DIABETES: Research has linked green or black tea or compounds in tea (such as catechins) to improved blood sugar control or reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. A 2012 study looked at data from 50 countries and found that high consumption of black tea was strongly associated with a reduced diabetes risk. And a 2013 Cthinese meta-analysis of clinical trials suggested that green tea helps reduce blood sugar.
WEIGHT CONTROL: There is evidence that tea, especially green tea, has a modest weight-loss effect. A 2013 analysis of data from the large National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey linked tea consumption with lower weight and smaller waist size.
BONE HEALTH: Lab studies have shown that tea polyphenols have a positive and beneficial effect on factors affecting bone mass and bone strength and therefore may help protect against osteoporosis. Bones may also benefit from the fluoride in tea.
DENTAL HEALTH: Tea has antibacterial effects and thus may reduce levels of bacteria that cause cavities and contribute to gum disease. Teeth may also benefit from the fluoride in tea and at least two studies have linked green tea consumption with a reduced risk of tooth loss.
From a tea variety perspective, the following teas have their own individual benefits:
GREEN TEA: Green tea has a high concentration of EGCG and it’s antioxidants may interfere with the growth of bladder, breast, lung, stomach, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers; prevent clogging of the arteries, burn fat, counteract oxidative stress on the brain, reduce risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, reduce risk of stroke, and improve cholesterol levels.
BLACK TEA: Black tea has the highest caffeine content and forms the basis for flavored teas like chai, along with some instant teas. Studies have shown that black tea may protect lungs from damage caused by exposure to cigarette smoke. It also may reduce the risk of stroke.
WHITE TEA: White tea is made from tea leaves that are uncured and unfermented. A study has shown that white tea has the most potent anticancer properties compared to more processed teas.
OOLONG TEA: In a study using animals as test subjects, those given antioxidants from oolong tea were found to have lower bad cholesterol levels.
So if you are not a regular tea drinker, remember that drinking tea can have an overall benefit to your health. Get that kettle boiling and get busy feeling great and making progress toward a healthier lifestyle.