One of the most popular drinks in the world, tea is not just a tasty drink, but a powerful disease fighter that affects everything from brain health to gut health and has been shown to reduce risk of a variety of diseases. Are you getting all the health benefits of tea?
First, it’s important to know that while black, green, white, oolong, and pu-erh tea are marketed very differently, they all come from the same plant, camellia sinesis, above. (For the purposes of this article, herbal “teas,” which do not come from camellia sinesis plant, are not included.) The difference between types of tea comes from how the leaves are processed. But no matter the processing method, all contain powerful chemical compounds like antioxidants, polyphenols, and catechins that promote good health and fight disease.
To get the most benefit, studies indicate that three cups a day is a good place to start, though some studies show that more is better. Brewed tea is likely better than instant or iced tea for health. Just don’t counteract all the benefits by sweetening your tea with too much sugar!
Tea contains antioxidants and polyphenols, which not only help prevent disease but also fight free radicals that age your skin fast. Some beauty companies have caught on to the benefits of tea and include it in their skincare products.
Many people also swear by tea for helping clear up acne; its anti-microbial properties may be to thank for that.
When it comes to weight control, what doesn’t tea do?
It makes your workouts more effective, for one thing. The catechins in green tea in particular have been shown to enhance abdominal fat loss in overweight adults and to improve exercise stamina in mice.
Tea has also been shown to reduce the stress hormone cortical, responsible for excess abdominal fat.
It also increases your metabolism. All tea contains caffeine and a phytochemical called EGCG (short for epigallocatechin-3-gallate), though green tea contains about four times as much EGCG as black tea. Both compounds help increase metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories throughout the day.
The incidence of diabetes has risen dramatically over the last 35 years in the US, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes is a disease where the body can’t create enough insulin to regulate blood sugar as it should. High blood sugar can cause damage to virtually all parts of your body and bring on a slew of issues including heart attacks and stroke (see below), nerve damage, vision loss (see below), erectile dysfunction, and much, much more. Keeping control over blood sugar is crucial in preventing diabetes from wreaking havoc on the body.
So how does tea help? By reducing cortical, a stress hormone, for one. And a meta-analysis that looked at data from 1,133 subjects found that drinking green tea was correlated with “significantly” lower blood sugar, possibly due to EGCG.
A meta-analysis from 2011 showed that green tea helped lower total serum cholesterol and LDL (“lousy”) cholesterol. While green tea looks like the go-to tea for those interested in reducing cholesterol, pu-erh tea is known in Chinese culture to do the same, though studies backing this up are lacking right now.
Cataracts – where the lens of the eye becomes “cloudy” and reduces vision – are a common occurrence among older adults; a full nine out of ten adults between 75 and 85 have experienced cataracts. It’s a natural process of aging. But one study found that both black and green teas inhibited cataracts in diabetic rats.
Arthritis is a disease of inflammation. Several studies have found that tea helps reduce inflammation. Green tea is more effective at fighting inflammation, probably because it contains more flavonoids.
Inflammation causes more than arthritis. Reducing inflammation also means fighting depression, metabolic syndrome, and a host of other problems.
A study published in 2007 followed 29,335 Finnish subjects and concluded that drinking tea was associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson’s Disease. (The study also looked at coffee and found that it, too, was associated with a lower incidence of Parkinson’s Disease.)
One of the health benefits of tea that makes headlines is its link to the Big C. Tea is full of chemicals that may help fight a variety of cancers, including breast, lung, skin, stomach, liver, ovarian, prostate, colon, and many more. The polyphenols in green tea, including EGCG, and the theaflavins and thearubigins (antioxidants) in black tea especially may be effective in fighting free radicals that would otherwise damage DNA.
Of course, expecting tea to prevent cancer on its own is asking too much, but the beneficial properties of tea make it a better choice than many other drinks, especially sugar-laden soft drinks. (And be careful of the temperature; some data suggests that drinking hot, versus warm, tea can actually cause cancer of the esophagus.)
A 2002 study found that the flavonoids in tea may reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. (Same for cocoa, which can also be a great source of flavonoids.)
Another study found that three to six cups of tea a day was associated with lower risk of heart disease. (Coffee drinkers who get at least two but no more than four cups a day also saw reduced risk of heart disease in this same study.)
Three cups seems to be the magic number for reducing risk of stroke, too. A large study from UCLA found that drinking three cups of tea a day – didn’t matter whether it was green or black – was associated with a 21% lower risk of stroke.
Like honey, tea contains chemicals that can help the body fight pollen allergies. A 2007 study found that adults drinking a variety of green tea called “benifuuki” green tea had less severe allergic reactions to cedar pollen. Once again, it looks like the EGCG in green tea is the key chemical here.
Tea is good for both your mind – how you think – and your brain itself. The combination of L-Theanine and caffeine in tea have been shown to improve mood, increase reaction time and attention, and reduce mental fatigue.
As if that weren’t enough, some studies show that green tea may be effective at reducing risk of dementia.