By Kristin Muckerheide, AADP, CHHC
While you’re likely to find a coffee shop around nearly every street corner in America, our beloved cuppa Joe is beginning to face more competition from its mellower counterpart, tea.
And there are some good reasons why. Tea has numerous health benefits, and barely a month goes by without a new study coming out touting the benefits of this subtly flavored beverage. Scientists link the benefits to tea’s polyphenol antioxidants, known as catechins, which protect against oxidative stress and the ill effects of free radicals accumulated through everyday life. But the benefits don’t stop there.
All types of tea come from the same warm-weather evergreen plant known as Camellia sinensis. How the tealeaves are processed is what determines its classification as a green, black, white, oolong or Pu-erh tea. Each of these types has its own set of benefits, but the Camellia sinensis plant offers bountiful health benefits no matter the processing method. Here are some highlights of the health effects of tea, and why you might want to change out that Joe for a cuppa tea.
1. Black tea helps maintain healthy blood pressure.
A 2004 paper in the Archives of Internal Medicine looked at blood pressure rates of Taiwanese people that drank tea for at least a year. The study found that those who drank 4 to 20 ounces of tea per day had a 46 percent lower risk of developing hypertension than people who didn’t drink tea on a regular basis.
A more recent study, conducted in Italy at the Department of Internal Medicine and Public Health at the University of L’Aquila, found that black tea reduced blood pressure in all participants and counteracted the negative effects of a high-fat meal in people with hypertension. Study researchers concluded that black tea’s flavanols, or antioxidants, were likely responsible for the beneficial effects.
2. Tea prevents heart attack, heart disease and cardiovascular disease.
Another paper, published in 2002 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looked at the results of a large study on chronic disease and found that those that drank the highest amount of tea, more than 12 ounces a day, had less than half the risk of heart attack than people that didn’t drink tea.
A review published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that drinking three or more cups of tea per day was linked with a lower risk of coronary heart disease.
The University of Maryland Medical Center also reported that research has shown that green and black teas may prevent atherosclerosis, or, hardening of the arteries. The Food and Drug Administration, however, has yet to allow tea makers to claim that green tea can affect heart disease risk.
3. Tea promotes healthy digestion.
Gerry Mullin, an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and author of “The Inside Tract: Your Good Gut Guide to Great Digestive Health,” told the Washington Post that tea may help control glucose and insulin and keep the digestive systems running smoothly.
Pu-erh tea is especially helpful for digestion, as the leaves are fermented during processing. Fermented foods and beverages are helpful for building and maintaining healthy gut flora, which is important for immune and overall health.
4. Tea consumption boosts the immune system and prevents disease.
Healthy digestion plays a large role in immune health, but studies tie tea consumption to improvements in immune strength in other ways as well. According to research from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, tea supports the immune system by boosting the number of “regulatory T cells” in the body, which are important for immune function.
Study researcher Emily Ho said in a statement, “When fully understood, this could provide an easy and safe way to help control autoimmune problems and address various diseases.” The research was published in the journal Immunology Letters.
The researchers focused their studies on a compound in green tea epigallocatechin gallate, also known as EGCG, which is a powerful polyphenol. Ho said that its effectiveness may lie in the way it impacts how genes are expressed—also known as epigenetics—instead of changing the actual coding of DNA.
5. Green tea promotes healthy weight loss.
According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, those who drank three to five cups of green tea per day lost 5% of their body weight, particularly belly fat, in 3 months.
6. Green tea may help prevent or shrink cancers.
Scottish researchers discovered that applying the EGCG found in green tea shrank tumors in lab tests. Dr. Christine Dufés, the lead researcher of the study and senior lecturer at the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, said in a statement that when the researchers used their method of delivering the treatment “specifically” to the tumors after intravenous administration, “the green tea extract reduced the size of many of the tumors every day, in some cases removing them altogether.”
Nearly two-thirds of the tumors it was delivered to shrank or disappeared after one month, and according to the researchers, they saw no side effects to normal tissues. Dufés noted that while their method was highly effective in shrinking the tumors, the extract didn’t have any effect if delivered using conventional intravenous methods.
7. Helps fight prostate cancer.
Researchers at the University of Missouri found that green tea and radioactive gold nanoparticles worked together to fight prostate cancer tumor cells. Green tea compounds were used as the delivery mechanism, bringing the gold nanoparticles to the tumor, where they were able to kill the cancer cells.
The research, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, showed that the same method was able to reduce tumor size in mice by 80%.
8. Green tea promotes healthier aging.
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that drinking green tea can help people function better as they age, meaning less help needed doing basic activities like bathing or dressing.
The study, which looked at 14,000 adults ages 65 and older for a three-year period, showed that those that drank the most green tea had the best functioning in old age compared with those that drank the least.
In the published study, researchers concluded, “Green tea consumption is significantly associated with a lower risk of incident functional disability, even after adjustment for possible cofounding factors.”
So while it’s clear that teatime may boost your health in a variety of ways, experts disagree on the recommended daily amount. Some say two to eight cups, while others say more than four. We say: Any amount is better than nothing!
If you’re sensitive to caffeine, switch to decaf or simply reduce your intake of the caffeinated versions. But unlike coffee, tea delivers the calming amino acid theanine, or L-Theanine, so it will keep you calm as well as alert. Drink on!
Kristin Muckerheide is an AADP Board Certified Holistic Health Counselor and owner of the holistic health counseling practice Body + Soul Wellness, LLC. For questions and to learn more, www.mybodysoulwellness.com.
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