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Tea- Sip Your Way to Wellness

In the Chinese province of Yunnan, a tree still grows that first sprouted 3,200 years ago. And the leaves of this species of tree are used to create the second most popular beverage in the world: Tea ( only water is consumed more).

Tea was widely touted for its medicinal properties almost since it was first cultivated.

The best known teas are green, black, white and oolong. Tea comes from the genus of Camellia- a group of plants that prefer to grow in hot and moist climates of subtropical areas.  The harvesting and processing of the tea leaves determine how a tea is classified by type. White tea and green tea leaves are steamed to stop oxidization.  But they don’t undergo any fermenting or processing like black and oolong tea.

As Good as Veggies?

Tea contains antioxidants- powerful molecules that can defend your body against attack from disease. In fact, black tea and green tea have as much as ten times the amount of antioxidants than fruit and vegetables.

Although large scale research needs to be conducted, most types of tea show benefits for health- from reducing cholesterol to preventing cancer.  A Swedish study that followed the dietary habits of 60,000 women ( ages 40-76) over 15 years revealed those who drank two cups of tea daily cut their risk of ovarian cancer by 46%. (1)

In addition, green tea shows exciting promise for treating breast cancer.  This tea contains the potent antioxidant EGCG.  Researchers speculate this green tea antioxidant may inhibit blood supply to the tumors and prevent cancer cells from spreading.

Green tea may also prevent bladder, lung, stomach and colon cancer.  In the areas of brain health, this powerful tea may reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

As well as fighting and preventing serious diseases of the body’s organs, green tea benefits the muskuloskeletal system.  Research has shown that it may help soothe joint inflammation and reduce cartilage degeneration.  In one study  on green tea and arthritis, the researchers concluded, “our studies suggest that polyphenolic fraction from green tea that is rich in antioxidants may be useful in the prevention of onset and severity of arthritis”.(2)

Although green tea has gotten most of the research spotlight, other teas are revealing their health potential.

Black tea demonstrates hope for treating type 2 diabetes. A study published by the Journal of Food Science found that specific polysaccharides, a type of carbohydrate found in black tea might be especially effective at reducing blood sugar- much more than any other type of tea (3).

Black tea may also help prevent stroke, while Oolong tea shows promise at slashing LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Does Caffeine Matter? 

The once drawback of tea is caffeine.  An 8-ounce cup of tea may contain 30 mg to 90 mg of this stimulant.  While they dislike the side effects of caffeine, many people continue to consume tea because of the health benefits. The good news is that you can still get the same antioxidant levels by drinking decaffeinated tea.  A noted tea researcher says to date there is no evidence that tea’s antioxidant  flavanoids are affected by the removal of caffeine. So have another cup!

What About Herbal Teas?

Another option for those who’ve wanted to avoid caffeinated beverages has been to drink herbal tea.  Usually containing a mixture of herbs, flowers, roots and similar ingredients, herbal teas are actually tisanes.  This is because most herbal teas do not actually contain tea.  While they may contain healthful properties, most herbal teas are not as high in antioxidants as genuine tea.

 

References:
1) Tea Consumption and Ovarian Cancer Risk in a Population- Based Cohort- Arch Intern Med. 005;165:2683-2686
2) Prevention of collagen- induced arthritis in mice by a polyphenolic fraction from green tea- Departments of Medicine, Division of Rheumatic Diseases, Dermatology, and Biochemistry, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH  
3) Physicochemical Properties and Antioxidant Capacity of 3 Polysaccharides from Green Tea, and Black Tea- Journal of Food Science, Volume 74 Issue 6, Pages C469- C474.