Tea’s health benefits and restorative powers go far beyond the act of drinking it.
Researchers have documented many of the health benefits of tea, which go far beyond imbibing the stuff.
An ancient ingredient, the tea leaf has beneficial properties whether taken internally or used topically, but also the ritual of making and drinking a cup of tea has benefits of its own; not only is it healthy for your body, but it’s also refreshing and calming to sip and savor a freshly brewed cup of tea.
“Many teas are known for their anti-inflammatory properties, and can be used both internally or topically to reap this benefit,” explains Dr. Frank Lipman, founder of BeWell and the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York. “Tea gets its health-enhancing power from flavonoids, the natural chemical compounds that help neutralize free-radicals, limiting their ability to inflame and damage the body.”
A holistic elixir, tea does the body, mind, and spirit good.
Tea has wonderful antioxidant properties.
Tea is packed full of flavonoids and polyphenols, specific types of antioxidants. Flavonoids regulate cellular activity, fighting off free radicals that cause oxidative stress, which is good for your heart. Polyphenols help with metabolic function, boosting digestion and protecting against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.
A controlled, randomized study found drinking black tea over 12 weeks reduced triglyceride values by 36%, decreased blood sugar by 18%. In another study, people who enjoyed 3 cups of black tea a day, reduced their risk for heart disease by 11%. Murine studies showed theaflavins, a polyphenol found in black tea, reduced the risk for diabetes, elevated cholesterol, and obesity.
Tea’s polyphenols may also play a role in controlling cancer cell growth and survival. In a lab setting, scientists analyzed the polyphenols in black and green tea’s effect on cancer cells. The study showed tea could regulate cell growth and inhibit new cancer cell development.
Another study analyzed the effects of polyphenols in black tea on breast cancer. It showed that black tea may impede the spread of breast cancer’s hormone-dependent tumors.
You may be able to reduce LDL cholesterol by drinking tea.
A randomized study found of people with mildly elevated cholesterol who drank 5 cups of black tea a day reduced their LDL cholesterol by 11%. A 3-month, randomized study found that tea significantly decreased LDL levels, researchers concluded that black tea helped improve cholesterol levels in people who were at risk for obesity and heart disease.
Both green and black tea can help lower cholesterol levels. Green tea is prepared from unfermented leaves and black tea from fully fermented leaves of the same plant. Researchers believe that catechins, a type of antioxidant found in tea, are responsible for its cholesterol–lowering effect.
Improved gut health is an added benefit of imbibing tea and infusions.
Studies have found the bacteria in your digestive tract can play an important role in your overall health. Good bacteria help with digestion and keep the baddies in check because they multiply so rapidly the bad bacteria have no room to grow.
Studies suggest that the good bacteria are vital for reduced risk of several health conditions: inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. Black tea helps promote and maintain a healthy digestive system.
The polyphenols found in black tea may help maintain a healthy gut by encouraging good bacteria growth and discouraging bad bacterial growth.
Black tea’s antimicrobial properties kill off harmful gut flora and boost immunity by helping to repair your digestive tract lining.
Drinking tea may lower your blood pressure.
In a controlled, randomized study, researchers considered black tea’s role in controlling hypertension in people who drank 3 cups of tea every day during the course of 6 months. Compared to the control group, they showed a major reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
But the research is mixed. A meta-analysis (statistical review) of 5 studies that included 343 subjects who drank black tea for 4 weeks showed some improvement in blood pressure readings, but reviewers didn’t find the results significant.
One thing is for certain though; the simple act of slowing down to sit and enjoy a nice cup of tea can do wonders for helping your blood pressure stay low.
Tea could improve heart health and reduce your risk of stroke.
One longitudinal study followed nearly 75,000 people for more than 10 years. People who drank at least 4 cups of black tea reduced their risk of stroke by 32%.
A meta-analysis reviewed the data from 9 studies that included more than 194,965 people. Those who drank 3 or more cups of either black or green tea a day had 21% reduction in their risk for stroke when compared to people who drank one or fewer cups of tea daily.
Lower blood sugar is a benefit for tea drinkers.
Black tea has been shown to boost your body’s use of insulin. One laboratory study investigated tea’s insulin-enhancing properties. The study found that black tea increased insulin activity by a factor of 15. According the researcher’s conclusions, several compounds, and especially a catechin known as epigallocatechin gallate, improve insulin activity and levels.
In addition to caffeine, black tea also contains L-theanine, an amino acid, which helps improve alertness and focus. L-theanine increases your brain’s alpha activity for increased relaxation and improved focus.
Researchers have discovered that beverages with L-theanine and caffeine have the best impact on focus, better than coffee or other caffeinated drinks because of the combo’s more stable energy effects. In 2 randomized studies, black tea significantly increased accuracy and self-reported alertness when compared to a placebo.
When teas to choose and how to brew them.
First, select a quality tea; store brands and Lipton’s just aren’t as good as Twining’s, Bigelow, or Taylor’s of Harrogate. The same goes for green tea and oolong teas.
For black tea, select either English or Irish breakfast teas or an everyday variety.
Tazo Zen Green Tea and Buddha Teas Organic Sencha Green Tea are good green teas.
Oolong tea, made from partially oxidized tea leaves, is available as Twining’s Darjeeling or Lapsang Souchong.
You can either use tea bags or loose-leaf tea in an infuser for single servings. Of course, there’s nothing quite like drinking freshly brewed loose leaf tea from the pot.
If you’re just making a cup of tea, a teabag will make one serving. If you’re making a pot of tea, use a teaspoon of loose tea per 6 oz. of water, plus one for the pot. For a teapot, you’ll want to warm the pot first by filling with hot water.
For black tea, bring the water (filtered water is best) to a hard boil and pour immediately into the cup or pot. Allow black tea to be steep 3–5 minutes, any longer and the tea can become bitter. Avoid mashing the tea, it also makes the tea bitter. For oolong, brew it only a minute or two; green is best brewed for 1 – 3 minutes.
Treat yourself to a bone china cup or mug—it makes a real difference in your tea-drinking experience.
Regularly enjoying a cup of tea, health benefits aside, can be a refreshing break in a busy day. While some studies try to rule out the idea that tea drinkers have a healthier lifestyle, the research appears to indicate tea’s health benefits are many.
Lynette Garet is a bilingual freelance writer. A U.S. ex-pat living in Costa Rica with her partner Sil, when not busy with writing projects, she can be found hanging with her favorite “stinky boys” (the Grand-Littles), tending her garden, cooking, reading, enjoying good wine, and dancing in the kitchen to music from a limitless list of genres.