A flurry of discoveries about tea’s health benefits, plus renewed appreciation of its ancient heritage, has pushed tea to the fore. Its antioxidants appear to lower cholesterol levels, improve cardiovascular health and help guard against some cancers. And some experts believe its flavenoids may inhibit the growth of plaque on teeth.
Studies have linked a wide range of health benefits to green tea including lowering the risk of certain cancers and heart disease as well as weight loss and protection against Alzheimer’s. One way to measure the strength of an antioxidant is by its Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity or ORAC value. The ORAC value is a measure of the capacity of the product to subdue free radicals that damage cells. Green tea has a very high ORAC value, outranking blueberries and more than two times as powerful as pomegranates.
Tea’s active ingredients are caffeine in combination with the tannin that gives it its pungency and much of its aroma and flavor (which essential oils also enhance). The New York Academy of Medicine held a symposium on “Pharmacological and Physiological Effects of Tea” in 1955 and found that, for reasons they could not explain, tea, unlike coffee, does not cause nervousness, insomnia, or stomach irritation when drunk in quantity. The scientists’ tests showed a cup of tea gives both an immediate and a delayed lift without secondary depressing effects later on. They agreed tea is a good agent for relieving fatigue and aids clearness of thought and digestion alike.
For years, studies in China and Japan have shown that the folklore about tea does contain some truth — it does promote longer life. Japanese smokers have only half the lung cancer rate as American smokers. In areas of Japan where the most tea is drunk, the rate of stomach cancer is the lowest. In a study of 6,000 Japanese women, those who drank 5 cups or more of green tea per day cut their risk of strokes by 50 percent. “Drinking tea with meals in Japan and China,” says a cancer researcher at the University of British Columbia, “is thought to be a major reason for low cancer rates in these countries.”
Long-term consumption of black tea — the kind that most Americans and Europeans drink — and of other foods such as apples containing chemicals called flavonoids was associated with a much lower risk of stroke in a study of 552 Dutch men. Flavonoids are natural vitaminlike compounds. They make blood cells called platelets less prone to clotting, and act as antioxidants, countering the artery-damaging potential of highly reactive free radical chemicals.
In the study, men with a high flavonoid intake had a 73 percent lower risk of stroke during 15 years of follow-up, compared with men with a low intake of flavonoids. The men in the study got about 70 percent of their flavonoids from drinking black tea.
Men who drank more than 4.7 cups of tea a day had a 69 percent reduced risk of stroke compared with men who drank less than 2.6 cups a day, said the researchers of the National Institute of Public Health and Environmental Protection in Bilthoven, the Netherlands.
Tea also helps prevent tooth decay in several ways. It contains a solid dose of fluoride and works better than the antibiotic tetracycline. According to researchers at the Tokyo Dental College, it fights the kinds of bacteria in the mouth that cause gum disease and the eventual loss of the teeth. It also kills the greatest cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth, Streptococcus mutans.
In addition, researchers in Australia announced that a cup of tea could be the next weapon in the fight against skin cancer. A study by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization revealed that mice made to sip black tea suffered 54 percent fewer cancers than those that drank water. Both sets of test animals were exposed to levels of ultraviolet rays that an average Australian receives.
Earlier studies on black tea have shown that it can be effective against some forms of cancer and may even prevent heart and liver disease. Properties in green and black tea called antioxidants are thought to be active agents against skin cancer. In the past 10 to 15 years, a growing body of research has shown that foods and vitamins with a strong anti-oxidant effect may reduce the risk of many diseases, including cancer and aging.
Human trials using black tea as a preventative against skin cancer began in Australia in 1997.
Pu-erh tea (pronounced POO-air), from Yunnan province in China, has long been considered a special delicacy and an indispensable part of daily health care. Many give this remarkable tea credit for restoring and maintaining good health. Generations of Chinese have drunk this tea after rich meals to “cut the grease.” In the 1970’s Chinese doctors in Kunming reported clinical experiments in which drinking pu-erh was shown to lower cholesterol levels in the blood stream. French researchers at St. Antoine Hospital in Paris duplicated these results and found that three cups of pu-erh a day for a month brought lipids down 25 percent in 20 hyperlipidemia patients, while those on other teas showed no change. These tests showed pu-erh performed at least as well as clofibrate, the most advanced medicine for the purpose, without the drug’s side effects. It has since been shown to help reduce body weight by increasing the metabolism. Many report that drinking it after meals relieves any overstuffed feelings and aids digestion. The Chinese claim that pu-erh also can lower blood alcohol after drinking, prevent dysentery, and stimulate secretions from the spleen and other organs.
Iced tea works as well as hot tea in bestowing health benefits. An American invention and very rare in the rest of the world, 80 percent of the tea drunk in America is iced. Keemun is one of Holy Mountain’s teas that works well over ice.
Research has shown that green tea may contain cancer-fighting agents, and certain herbal teas claim to combat or soothe many maladies.
Herbal teas, called tisanes, technically are not teas at all, but infusions of various herbs, flowers and spices instead of Camellia sinensis leaves. Many herbal teas use catchy names and packaging to enhance their appeal. Among them are: Allergy Season Tea by The Yogi Tea Co., Herbal Throat Tea by Celestial Seasonings, Steady Stomach by Herbal Comfort, and PMS Tea by Traditional Medicinals. As with anything, herbal teas should be consumed in moderation.