Want a Strong Immune System? Drink Tea!

By Diana Rosen


Cup of tea a day keeps the doctor away

Your immune system is the gatekeeper to good health, and keeping it strong and vital means you'll experience fewer illnesses and you'll benefit from quicker recovery when, or if, you become ill.

So, what is an immune system and why is it so important? It is the human body's unique design to resist the millions of fungi, microbes and viruses, toxins and parasites and bacteria and germs to which we are exposed every single day.

As conscientious as we might be, we cannot avoid being exposed to bacteria and viruses. What we can do is build up our bodies' immune system so that it can prevent any possible damage caused by inflammation or disease, from the relatively benign like colds and flu, to the more serious ones like pneumonia or cancer.

Just as you wash your hands to keep germs at bay, you need to eat healthful foods and drink beverages that aid digestion as they quench your thirst. One of the most beneficial beverages is...you guessed it... green tea!

Green Tea Fights Bacteria

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has published the results of a Brigham Women's Hospital study noting that three cups of tea a day, about 20 ounces, can directly help prevent infection by fighting bacteria.

To determine the level of strength in immune response, scientists measure the anti-bacterial proteins in blood. Tea drinkers in the Brigham study showed up to five times the amounts of anti-bacterial proteins in their blood than those who did not drink tea.

The Mystery Ingredient is L-theine

Scientists have discovered that an amino acid, L-theanine, has been shown to consistently strengthen our immunity, resist or fight off infection, and most importantly, build up and increase the capacity of gamma delta T cells, the body's first line of defense against infection.

L-theanine occurs naturally in the Camellia sinensis plant and tea is the only way to get L-theanine in your diet unless you take a supplement. L-theanine appears in all true tea no matter how it is processed, but one tea has shown exceptional germ-fighting capability: green tea, particularly matcha. The most likely explanation is that matcha is made from Japan's highest quality green tea, gyokuro. This lightly steamed green tea is high in chlorophyll because its leaves are shaded during the growth period to elevate the levels of chlorophyll for both appearance and taste. The shading, which can last up to three weeks, also increases the level of L-theanine which is found to be at higher concentrations in young greens. L-theanine is also available in white teas, oolongs or blacks but at much lower levels.

The Magic of Matcha

To make matcha from gyokuro, the leaves are plucked and laid out flat to dry, then the leaf veins are removed. The tea is now considered "tencha". These deveined leaves are carefully ground in granite mills until they become completely different, no longer leaves, but a very fine ground powder the consistency of talc. Preserved are the chlorophyll and the L-theanine, and a marvelous taste.

Preparing matcha is different than steeping other green tea leaves, like Dragonwell from China and Sencha from Japan. Place 1 level teaspoon of matcha per six-ounce cup, add a few drops of hot (160-180° F.) water, and stir with a spoon until a paste forms. Add the remaining water and whisk into a froth. To drink, take three to five sips. Each should be redolent with a sweet grassy essence. We carry bamboo whisks made especially for this tea preparation but are not necessary. Using a small wooden fork or spoon rather than a metal one is preferable.

Matcha has many other benefits to building up our immune system. Its natural fiber helps to detoxify the body of toxins and improve digestion and thus helps the body do its work to fight off bacteria and viruses. Like all tea, its powerful antioxidants aid the body's defense against the free radicals that cause serious diseases. And, best of all, it tastes delicious, provides alertness and mental clarity. That brain boost is also thanks to L-theanine. It boosts the alpha wave activity in the brain which promotes the quiet alertness meditation enthusiasts often talk about. This state of relaxed concentration is a direct result of the calming effect of this powerful amino acid and counteracts the stimulants like theine, theobromine and caffeine which are found naturally in tea.

The Tender Leaves: Gyokuro and Sencha

If you prefer to get your immune-boosting L-theanine by using tea leaves, give your body the best quality green tea and your tastebuds the most ambrosial taste. Drink gyokuro. These spring tender leaves offer a buttery sweet taste that is as soothing as it is satisfying. Steep with hot water (170°F.) for 2 minutes. If you're new to this deluxe tea from Japan, brew carefully for 1 minute, taste, then continue brewing an additional minute for more depth of flavor.

Another alternative for immune strengthening is our exceptional "every day Japanese green", Sencha Premier.

This is the perfect tea for those new to green tea. This steamed green tea from Japan's Shizuoka prefecture is a first flush tea plucked during early spring. Sencha or daily tea is sold in many grades and our Sencha Premier is exceptional with a delicate refreshing clean taste. It may appear cloudy in the cup because the tea master intentionally, and carefully, sprinkles some broken tea dust in with the deep green elegant leaves to provide what the Japanese call the fifth taste, umami, that description of taste when all elements are combined perfectly to create something more than any of the other elements reveal by themselves. (The other tastes are sweet, sour, salty and bitter.) Umami is the ultimate in taste for any recipe for a beverage or food, and our Sencha Premier never disappoints.

It is, however, critical to pay close attention to the steeping process and the water temperature for the best results. Steep at a relatively cool 170°F. for 1 minute. Taste, brew for 1 more minute as desired.

We all know that choosing lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein and avoiding excess sweets are good ways to improve health. Isn't it wonderful to know that our favorite beverage has been given the proverbial green light as a significantly healthful way to improve and empower our magnificently complex, ever-busy immune system as it fights bacteria and viruses 24/7. Let's make a toast to the power of L-theanine...with a glorious cup of tea, of course!