Health Benefits of Tea
This is not intended to be a medical advice. Please consult your doctor before using any tea if you have any medical conditions or otherwise.
After water, tea is the most commonly consumed beverage in the world. This is good news, because tea offers important health benefits.
Green tea was the first tea studied for its cancer-fighting benefits. Recent research shows that any tea derived from the leaf of a warm-weather evergreen known asCamellia sinensis has similar cancer-fighting properties. This includes all green, black and red (oolong) teas. The leaves of this tree contain chemicals called polyphenols, which give tea its antioxidant properties. Herbal teas are not derived from this leaf and so do not have this particular health-promoting chemical.
The degree of processing determines whether a tea will be green, black or red. Green teas are the least processed. They are simply steamed quickly before packaging. Black and red teas are partially dried, crushed and fermented. The length of fermentation, which causes the leaves to blacken, determines whether the tea will be red or black. Regardless of the processing method, all teas contain polyphenols.
Polyphenols, like other antioxidants, help protect cells from the normal, but damaging, physiological process known as "oxidative stress." Although oxygen is vital to life, it's also incorporated into reactive substances called free radicals. These can damage the cells in our body and have been implicated in the slow chain reaction of damage leading to heart disease and cancer.
Some researchers say that tea combats heart disease, lowers cholesterol and staves off several types of cancer while protecting skin and strengthening bones and teeth.
Some of the most persuasive tea research links tea to lower risks of heart disease, stroke and high cholesterol. Numerous clinical trials as well as large population studies have found that regular tea drinkers are as much as 44 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack than the general population, and those who have had heart attacks are more likely to recover. Researchers at Boston University recently found that black tea appears to repair blood-vessel damage in people who have coronary-artery disease. And at the USDA, a just-completed study that controlled everything subjects ate and drank found that consistent tea-drinking significantly lowered LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) without decreasing helpful HDL cholesterol.
Tea helps prevent sunburn and even skin cancer. At the Universityof Arizona, researchers found that drinking hot black tea appears to protect against squamous-cell carcinoma. Wearing tea may be just as useful: studies show that green-tea compounds in skin lotions may protect against, and even reverse, sun damage.
Many studies have demonstrated the anti-cancer properties of polyphenols. They can stop the damage that free radicals do to cells, neutralize enzymes essential for tumor growth, and deactivate cancer promoters. Their effect on heart disease is less well understood. Some laboratory studies have found that polyphenols help prevent blood clotting and lower cholesterol levels. The leap to preventing heart attacks, however, has not yet been made. The majority of evidence comes from studies done on lab animals. The effect on people is unclear.
Other studies report increased bone-density measurements among tea drinkers, possibly due to the fluoride in tea, coupled with the catechins. Tea, especially oolong, has been shown to suppress bacterial growth in the mouth, and it helps to prevent cavities.
Although much remains to be learned about the health benefits of tea, it is considered a good choice for at least some of the 6 to 8 cups or glasses of fluids recommended daily. The best teas are those brewed from loose leaves or tea bags of black, green or red tea, as they have the most antioxidant power. Allow your tea to steep for three to five minutes to allow the maximum amount of antioxidants to be released. Iced teas can provide as much antioxidant power as hot teas. Keep them covered and refrigerated. Bottled teas often have a lower antioxidant level because they contain mostly water and sugar.
Some people think that milk lowers tea's anti-oxidant power because it binds to polyphenols and inactivates them. This has not been proven, however, so go ahead and add some milk if you like. You'll also increase your calcium intake.
Tea also has fluoride for strong teeth, virtually no calories, and half the amount of caffeine found in an equally-sized cup of coffee. Whether decaffeinated teas have the same polyphenols, and thus the same health benefits, as regular teas has not yet been studied. Caffeine is a natural component of tea leaves. It is not yet known if removing caffeine also removes polyphenols.
Of course, like anything, tea has its drawbacks. "Caffeine is caffeine is caffeine," says Blumberg. "You just get a smaller dose in tea than in coffee." (Black tea has about half as much as coffee; green, a third. But you can decaffeinate tea, which lessens its healthful effects only slightly, by immersing a tea bag or ball in hot water for thirty seconds, throwing that water out and then brewing again.) One caveat: avoid taking medicine or vitamins with tea, since its active ingredients can interfere with those in some medications. Tea can also hinder iron absorption, though drinking it with lemon or only between meals will mitigate that effect.
Bottom Line: Consider including 1-2 cups of tea as a healthy part of your daily diet.
United States FDA
In a July, 2005 review of claims made about the health benefits of green tea, theU.S. Food and Drug Adminstration concluded that it was highly unlikely that green tea reduces the risk of breast and prostate cancer. Further, the FDA believes that current evidence does not support qualified health claims for green tea consumption and a reduced risk of cancer.
The FDA has not been able to square its findings with the findings of extensive tea experiments in Asia.