Health & Beauty

The Benefits of Tea: Pleasure AND Health

Tea is widely known to benefit health.
Tea is widely known to benefit health.
But what does the most recent research say about that?
But what does the most recent research say about that?
The pleasures of tea are immediate, satisfying, and unusual. What other drink stimulates the brain while it relaxes the body? What other beverage offers such a wide range of flavor, fragrance, and delicious taste for the palate to enjoy? These are reasons enough to drink tea on a regular basis, but is it good for our health?

The answer is pretty much yes, and in a few cases, maybe no.

Modest quantities of true tea (Camellia sinensis) are indeed healthful for most people. Drinking anywhere from one to four small cups (4 oz.) of tea per day is an ideal way to keep our minds alert and our bodies relaxed.

The "Good Guy" of Tea: Polyphenols

The health benefits of tea and green tea, in particular, are exceptional. Studies from Australia to Japan, from the U.S. to Europe have shown that the polyphenols (a type of antioxidant) are Mother Nature's version of Pac Man, hungrily eating away at the bad guys (free radicals) who aim to attack the good guys (our healthy cells).

Green tea consists of an estimated 20% to 45% polyphenols by weight. This antioxidant content helps to fight or prevent cell damage caused by free radicals, according to research scientist in nutrition Christopher Ochner, PhD, who works at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.

These polyphenols are classified as "catechins." Green tea contains six primary catechin compounds: catechin, gallaogatechin, epicatechin, epigallocatechin, epicatechin gallate, and epigallocatechin 3-gallate (also known as EGCG), the most bioactive polyphenol of all.

Tea Can Benefit the Heart and Memory

A 20-year study, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, cited a study of 40,000 Japanese participants who drank at least five cups of green tea daily. These men had a lower risk of dying from heart disease than those who drank only one cup of green tea per day. The polyphenols contained, particularly catechin, were credited in lowering the subjects' LDL (or "bad" cholesterol) levels.

In the first large-scale study that examined the effects of both tea and coffee on the risk of strokes, green tea was the clear winner. Lead author Yoshihiro Kokubo, MD, reported in Stroke, published by the American Heart Assn., "You can make a small, but positive, lifestyle change to help lower the risk of stroke by adding green tea to your diet."

While benefits of tea relating to heart disease, cancer, and stroke have been widely reported, recent new research indicates benefits for our minds too. A 2014 issue of Psychopharmacology reported that green tea can "enhance our brain's cognitive functions, particularly the working memory."

Similarly, researchers are exploring how green tea could treat cognitive impairments, such as dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and other neuropsychiatric disorders. As for how memory can be enhanced and memory loss abated, researchers at the University of Michigan uncovered this cause in a 2013 report: a "molecule in green tea may help prevent the misfolding of specific proteins in the brain." Misfolding of neuroproteins is a frequently cited cause of diminishing brain function.

Another element found in tea is L-theanine, an amino acid, which is what causes the "calming effect" experienced by many tea drinkers.

When Stimulants are "Too Much"

The stimulants in tea are alkaloids, and comprise traces of caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline. Sometimes, these naturally occurring-stimulants can interfere with anti-coagulants like Coumadin or Warfarin, so ask your doctor if you take these drugs. And, as always, pregnant women should always consult their physicians regarding foods and beverages with stimulant attributes. While it may be hard to imagine, there are people who must be treated to increase their slow heart rates, or elevate their blood pressure because of dangerously low levels. Drugs that help regulate the heartbeat or blood pressure might be compromised if one ingests too much tea. A modest one or two cups a day should be fine for most people, but if you're concerned, again, ask your doctor.

What's an Alternative to Camellia Sinensis?

Love drinking teas but concerned about their stimulant properties? You have countless choices among herbals. However, rooibos, the redbush tree from South Africa, represents the best of all possible worlds. Rooibos is made from the bark of the South African redbush tree; it has no stimulants to interfere with medications; and most importantly, it offers the SAME antioxidant benefits of true tea.

It is also an amazing tisane to brew, forgiving about time and quantity. Whether plain or blended with delicious fruits or other natural flavorings, it's healthful and tasty.

Other wonderful choices include chamomile flowers, an excellent night-time tea with a silky sweetish taste. Peppermint, and others in the mint family, make for a perfect digestif. Rose petals, hibiscus, and other flowers, fruits, and herbs make delicate yet satisfying cups to enjoy any time of the day.

Tea, along with plenty of fruits and vegetables (which also contain antioxidants) comprise a valuable triumvirate in a healthful diet. Sencha and fruit salad, anyone?

And, since tea is made with water, it is critical that the water be as clean and as clear as possible for the most healthful, delicious cup of tisane or true tea. Try Adagio's easy-to-use water filter and pitcher, the GraviTEA.