The most popular drink in the world (next to water) also contains powerful antioxidants that can support your health.
Tea is one of the oldest and most popular drinks in the world. It can be found in 80 percent of all American households. Most of the tea consumed in the US (84 percent) is black tea, 15 percent is green tea, and the small remaining amount is oolong and white tea (herbal teas are their own category, as they do not come from the Camellia sinensis plant) f. There are tremendous health benefits associated with drinking tea.
Black, green, oolong, dark, and white tea all come from the same plant, the Camellia sinensis. The differences among the five types result from the various treatments of the leaves and level of oxidation. Black tea is fully oxidized, oolong is partially oxidized, and green and white tea are not oxidized. Dark teas are fermented.
Tea has been consumed for nearly 5,000 years and was purportedly discovered in 2737 BC by Chinese Emperor Shen-Nung. According to legend, some tea leaves accidentally blew into the Emperor’s pot of boiling water and created the first tea brew.
Tea contains flavonoids that can help neutralize free radicals that, if left unaddressed, contribute to chronic disease.
A 2020 review found that adults who consume 2-3 8 ounce cups of tea per day may lower risk of death from heart disease by 8-12 percent and lower all-cause mortality by 4-6 percent. A 2016 study found that those who drank more than one cup of tea per day had a lower incidence of cardiovascular events and a slower progression of coronary artery calcification. Green tea’s benefits for heart health have been confirmed by other studies. One or more cups of black tea a day was associated with a 44 percent reduced risk of heart attack in a Harvard study. Black tea was found to reduce blood pressure.
There have been thousands of studies on the consumption of tea and tea compounds, such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), on cancer risk. A 2015 study found that EGCG helps kill cancer cells by destroying their mitochondria. Tea drinkers were also found to have a 42 percent reduced risk for colon cancer compared to non-tea drinkers; men who drank more than 1.5 cups of tea per day had a 70 percent lower colon cancer risk. Black tea consumption also lowers skin cancer risk.
Antioxidants in tea help protect the brain from free radicals. A 2016 study found that green tea consumption (5 cups daily vs. 1 cup) was associated with lower dementia risk; another study found that 3 or more cups of tea daily lowered Parkinson’s risk. This may be due to the activity of theanine, an amino acid found in tea and in some mushrooms, which animal studies suggest prevents age-related memory decline. The catechins, a type of flavonoid, found in tea also seem to have neuroprotective effects because they are powerful antioxidants.
Diabetes and Weight Management
Clinical trials have found that black tea consumption has positive effects on long-term diabetes management by lowering hemoglobin A1C and reducing oxidative stress. In another study, obese rats were given green tea polyphenols had lower levels of body fat synthesis. Theaflavins that give black tea its reddish color help the body manage blood sugar. Tea flavonoids also help to elevate metabolic rate, increase fat oxidation, and improve insulin activity, which aid in controlling body weight.
L-theanine in tea primes the immune system in fighting infections. Immune cells in tea drinkers were found to secrete more interferon, which trigger killer immune cells to fight off invaders. Drinking black tea provides the body’s immune system with natural resistance to microbial infection. Due to its flavonoid content, tea is also anti-inflammatory, helping to calm inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is the common denominator in all major chronic diseases, so combatting inflammation in the body is critical to health.
Tea drinkers have higher bone mineral density than non-tea drinkers. Flavonoids in tea may help bone formation and reduce the risk of osteoporotic fractures.
Note that just because a beverage is labeled as “tea” doesn’t mean it is healthy. Avoid teas that are loaded with sugar, like green tea lattes or bubble tea. Some “detox” teas with weight loss claims may contain harmful ingredients like laxatives, so be sure to look at ingredient lists.
Also, consider trying loose leaf teas rather than tea bags. Loose leaf teas are made up primarily of unbroken leaves. There are some quality teas sold in bags, but generally tea bags are made from the dust and fannings of tea leaves. These are smaller pieces of tea leaves, so the surface area is larger, so there is more opportunity for the essential oils to evaporate, leaving a dull and stale taste.