The Health Benefits of Tea
There have been many studies suggesting that drinking tea may have numerous health benefits. Below are some interesting articles that discuss various teas and their benefits.
Types of Teas and Their Health Benefits
With green tea to hibiscus, white tea to chamomile, teas are chock full of flavonoids and other healthy goodies.
Regarded for thousands of years in the East as a key to good health, happiness, and wisdom, tea has caught the attention of researchers in the West, who are discovering the many health benefits of different types of teas.
Studies have found that some teas may help with cancer, heart disease, and diabetes; encourage weight loss; lower cholesterol; and bring about mental alertness. Tea also appears to have antimicrobial qualities.
“There doesn’t seem to be a downside to tea,” says American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RD, LD. “I think it’s a great alternative to coffee drinking. First, tea has less caffeine. It’s pretty well established that the compounds in tea – their flavonoids – are good for the heart and may reduce cancer.”
Although a lot of questions remain about how long tea needs to be steeped for the most benefit, and how much you need to drink, nutritionists agree any tea is good tea. Still, they prefer brewed teas over bottled to avoid the extra calories and sweeteners.
Here's a primer to get you started.
Health Benefits of Tea: Green, Black, and White Tea
Tea is a name given to a lot of brews, but purists consider only green tea, black tea, white tea, oolong tea, and pu-erh tea the real thing. They are all derived the Camellia sinensis plant, a shrub native toChina andIndia, and contain unique antioxidants called flavonoids. The most potent of these, known as ECGC, may help against free radicals that can contribute to cancer, heart disease, and clogged arteries.
All these teas also have caffeine and theanine, which affect the brain and seem to heighten mental alertness.
The more processed the tea leaves, usually the less polyphenol content. Polyphenols include flavonoids. Oolong and black teas are oxidized or fermented, so they have lower concentrations of polyphenols than green tea; but their antioxidizing power is still high.
Here's what some studies have found about the potential health benefits of tea:
- Green tea: Made with steamed tea leaves, it has a high concentration of EGCG and has been widely studied. Green tea’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: Made with fermented tea leaves, 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 damage caused by exposure to cigarette smoke. It also may reduce the risk of stroke.
- White tea: Uncured and unfermented. One study showed that white tea has the most potent anticancer properties compared to more processed teas.
- Oolong tea: In an animal study, those given antioxidants oolong tea were found to have lower bad cholesterol levels. One variety of oolong, Wuyi, is heavily marketed as a weight loss supplement, but science hasn’t backed the claims.
- Pu-erh tea: Made fermented and aged leaves. Considered a black tea, its leaves are pressed into cakes. One animal study showed that animals given pu-erh had less weight gain and reduced LDL cholesterol.
Health Benefits of Tea: Herbal Teas
Made herbs, fruits, seeds, or roots steeped in hot water, herbal teas have lower concentrations of antioxidants than green, white, black, and oolong teas. Their chemical compositions vary widely depending on the plant used.
Varieties include ginger, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, hibiscus, jasmine, rosehip, mint, rooibos (red tea), chamomile, and echinacea.
Limited research has been done on the health benefits of herbal teas, but claims that they help to shed pounds, stave off colds, and bring on restful sleep are largely unsupported.
Here are some findings:
- Chamomile tea: Its antioxidants may help prevent complications diabetes, like loss of vision and nerve and kidney damage, and stunt the growth of cancer cells.
- Echinacea: Often touted as a way to fight the common cold, the research on echinacea has been inconclusive.
- Hibiscus: A small study found that drinking three cups of hibiscus tea daily lowered blood pressure in people with modestly elevated levels.
- Rooibos (red tea): A South African herb that is fermented. Although it has flavonoids with cancer-fighting properties, medical studies have been limited.
Health Benefits of Tea: Instant teas
Instant tea may contain very little amounts of actual tea and plenty of sugars or artificial sweeteners. For health’s sake, check out the ingredients on the label.
Can Tea Be Bad for Your Health?
Most teas are benign, but the FDA has issued warnings about so-called dieter’s teas that contain senna, aloe, buckthorn, and other plant-derived laxatives.
The agency also warns consumers to be wary of herb-containing supplements that claim to kill pain and fight cancer. None of the claims is backed by science and some of the herbs have led to bowel problems, liver and kidney damage, and even death.
The FDA cautions against taking supplements that include:
These cautions aside, nutritionists say to drink up and enjoy the health benefits of tea.
“You want to incorporate healthy beverages in your diet on a more regular basis to benefit these health-promoting properties," says Diane L. McKay, PhD, aTuftsUniversityscientist who studies antioxidants. "It’s not just about the foods; it’s about what you drink, as well, that can contribute to your health."
Health Benefits of Green Tea
Experts explain green tea's potential benefits for everything fighting cancer to helping your heart.
It's difficult not to gush about green tea.
More than a decade's worth of research about green tea's health benefits -- particularly its potential to fight cancer and heart disease has been more than intriguing, as have limited studies about green tea's role in lowering cholesterol, burning fat, preventing diabetes and stroke, and staving off dementia.
"I believe in green tea based on everything written about it," says Katherine Tallmadge, RD, LD, a nutritionist and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "Green tea, white tea, black tea -- I like all of them."
Still, real-world evidence is lacking; most of the consistent findings about green tea's health benefits have come out of the lab.
The few large-scale human studies that have focused on green tea's impact on heart disease and cancer are promising, but many of those were conducted in the East, where green tea is a dietary mainstay. The outcomes are likely influenced by other lifestyle factors such as high consumption of fish and soy protein, says cardiologistNieca Goldberg,MD, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association and medical director of the New York University Women'sHeartCenter.
But Goldberg agrees with other health professionals: green tea has important antioxidants and compounds that help in maintaining good health.
Green Tea's Powerful Antioxidants
Green tea's antioxidants, called catechins, scavenge for free radicals that can damage DNA and contribute to cancer, blood clots, and atherosclerosis. Grapes and berries, red wine, and dark chocolate also have potent antioxidants.
Because of green tea's minimal processing -- its leaves are withered and steamed, not fermented like black and oolong teas -- green tea's unique catechins, especially epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), are more concentrated.
But there's still a question of how much green tea you need to drink to reap its health benefits. EGCG is not readily "available" to the body; in other words, EGCG is not always fully used by the body.
"We must overcome the issue of poor bioavailability [and other issues] in order to get the most out of their benefits," says Tak-Hang Chan, PhD, professor emeritus in the department of chemistry at McGillUniversityin Montreal. Chan has studied the use of a synthetic form of EGCG in shrinking prostate cancer tumors in mice, with success.
Green Tea vs. Cancer
Marji McCullough, ScD, RD, the American Cancer Society's strategic director of nutritional epidemiology, says human studies haven't yet proven what researchers like Chan have discovered in the lab: green tea's EGCG regulates and inhibits cancer growth and kills cells that are growing inappropriately.
"Epidemiologically, one of the challenges is finding populations that drink enough green tea and have for a long time," she says. "With cancer, it's always difficult to find the exposure time," or the point at which cancer cells begin to develop.
Still, it's difficult not to be intrigued by a few human studies that have shown that drinking at least two cups of green tea daily inhibits cancer growth.
One of them, a study conducted in Japanthat involved nearly 500 Japanese women with Stage I and Stage II breast cancer, found that increased green tea consumption before and after surgery was associated with lower recurrence of the cancers.
Studies in Chinahave shown that the more green tea that participants drank, the less the risk of developing stomach cancer, esophageal cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and colorectal cancer.
Finally, a recent analysis of 22 studies that probed the correlation between high tea consumption and reduced risk for lung cancer concluded that by increasing your daily intake of green (not black) tea by two cups may reduce the risk of developing lung cancer by 18%.
Is Green Tea Good for Your Heart?
It seems to be, but there are conflicting results of a few epidemiological studies conducted in the East and West.
In a study that involved 500 Japanese men and women, researchers found that drinking at least four cups of green tea every day may be related to the reduced severity of coronary heart disease among the male participants.
A Dutch study of more than 3,000 men and women found that the more tea consumed, the less severe the clogging of the heart's blood vessels, especially in women.
As Goldberg suggests, lifestyle and overall diet are critical to the outcomes of these studies.
But green tea's antioxidants are dilators, she says, because they improve the flexibility of blood vessels and make them less vulnerable to clogging -- and antioxidant-rich blueberries and pomegranates do the same.
"I think people should know these are important studies, that everyday foods that are an option may actually have health benefits," Goldberg says. "I think green tea, because of its antioxidant value, may have heart benefits, but it's not something we regularly prescribe to people, because there isn't as much evidence as there is in exercise's ability to improve heart health."
Green Tea and Weight
Green tea and its extract have been shown to fight obesity and lower LDL "bad" cholesterol -- two risk factors for heart disease and diabetes -- but in very limited studies. One study in theNetherlands and a study inJapan showed that green tea did both.
In the Dutch study, participants who drank caffeinated green tea lost more weight, but even those who typically drank the decaf variety saw a decrease in their waistlines and body weight. Researchers speculated that the caffeine helps with fat oxidation.
In the Japanese study, 240 men and women were given varying amounts of green tea extract for three months. Those who got the highest amount lost fat and weight and had lower blood pressure and lower LDL "bad" cholesterol.
Green Tea Straight Up
But the best way to get the most out of green tea -- even if your main goal is losing weight -- is to drink it.
"Taken altogether, the evidence certainly suggests that incorporating at least a few cups of green tea every day will positively affect your health," says Diane McKay, PhD, aTuftsUniversityscientist who studies antioxidants. "It's not going to cure anything and it shouldn't be consumed as a drug, but it can complement the rest of the diet."
McCullough bears the same reminder: eat your fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, and nuts -- and go ahead, drink as much green tea as you want.
"I don't think it can hurt to drink it. I'd focus on dietary sources rather than supplements because there are several compounds in green tea that might need to be consumed together. We just don't know yet," she says.
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Health Benefits of Tea
For centuries, tea has been used in alternative medicine to treat everything cancer to constipation. Recent research supports these claims: Studies have shown that tea may protect against heart disease, Alzheimer's and many types of cancer. You may think that if you’ve tried one tea, you’ve tried them all, but that’s not the case. There's a wide range of flavors within every type of tea and host of different preventative health benefits. Learn how sipping on a cup of the right kind of tea could be the answer to your health problems.
For Weight Loss
Oolong tea boosts metabolism, helping you burn fat faster. Its unique catechin (an antioxidant) and caffeine combination ignites your body’s fat-burning furnace and raises your metabolism for up to 2 hours after drinking it. Oolong tea also contains polyphenols that help block fat-building enzymes. Studies have shown that drinking oolong tea has led to sustained weight loss and a smaller waist size. Be careful not to overload your tea with sugar, which will negate the benefits.
Yerba Mate Tea
For Weight Loss
Popular in South America, yerba mate tea is chockfull of antioxidants and vitamins and can help you lose fat. It contains the fat-fighting compound mateine, which gives you a metabolism and energy boost. Known as a cravings-killer, it saves you consuming empty calories you'd normally reach for. Additionally, yerba mate does not produce the caffeine-related crashes that some people experience with coffee and can give you 3-4 hours of very stable, clean energy.
For Weight Loss
White tea is less processed than other forms of tea, therefore the polyphenols, a type of antioxidant, are extra potent. White tea contains ECGC, an antioxidant that prevents new fat cells forming and fights signs of aging, like wrinkles. Research indicates that these benefits may protect against colon cancer, among other cancers. White tea’s flavor ranges delicate to bold.
For Fresh Breath
Black tea helps keep your breath smelling sweet because it is full of polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that stop plaque clinging to your teeth. Plaque build-up leads to bad breath, among other dental problems. Studies have also found polyphenols inhibit the growth of bacteria in the mouth, thus minimizing the foul-smelling compounds that those bacteria produce. Black tea also helps stop belly fat before it starts. Studies show that polysaccharides in black tea have glucose-inhibiting properties – meaning that it may also help to prevent diabetes.
Ginger works as an anti-inflammatory agent blocking prostagladins – the chemical messengers that cause a slight swelling in the brain. Ginger tea reduces inflammation in about the same amount of time as it would take an aspirin to work. Drink a cup at the onset of your headache to stop pain in its tracks.
For a Libido Boost
This tea boosts sexual arousal and helps combat erectile dysfunction. Ginseng contains compounds called ginsenosides that affect gonadal tissue, increasing sperm count as well heightening sexual satisfaction for both women and men.
For Overall Health
This tea has many properties that can help keep you in tip-top health. It contains a phytonutrient called EGCG that increases the hormone CCK, which is responsible for creating the feeling of satiation. Green tea's high EGCG content also makes it an effective cancer fighter. Studies show that drinking green tea may potentially prevent the onset or slow the progression of dementia.
Licorice Root Tea
For a Sweet Tooth
Licorice (the root, not the candy) is an herb that grows in the Mediterranean and throughoutAsia, and is actually sweeter than sugar, with zero calories. In addition to being good for your sweet tooth, it’s also an anti-inflammatory that has bacterial-killing properties and a range of other health benefits, including therapeutic compounds that soothe sore throats.
This tea has antihistamine properties and can prevent hay fever or allergy attacks happening in the first place. It also relieves annoying allergy symptoms like stuffy nose, sneezing and itchy eyes. Nettle tea is dense, so brew it for 15-20 minutes. Make a larger pot during allergy season and keep in the fridge. Add lime to freshen taste.
Passionflower has the flavone chrysin, which has anti-anxiety benefits. It works best for people with anxiety who also experience a lot of circular thinking or obsessive thoughts. Try a cup of passionflower tea before bed to calm your mind.
Sip on this delicious yet potent tea to relieve constipation. Whenever you experience an uncomfortable bout of constipation, peppermint tea is sure to improve motility in the GI tract and get you going.
Valerian Root Tea
If you’re having trouble sleeping, consider valerian tea. The natural compounds in valerian root have been used as a sedative and may help reduce the amount of time it takes for you to fall asleep. Try drinking valerian root tea a couple of hours before bedtime as a safer alternative to habit-forming sleep aids.