[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ave you ever wondered why tea is offered alongside sympathy?
When we think of tea we often think of the black type served with milk, sometimes sugar and a biscuit to dunk in it.
Tea is comforting but along with tasting nice it also has numerous health benefits. Tea is the most widely consumed drink worldwide and has been popular for approximately 50 centuries.
This ‘wonder drug’ is partially credited with the reason that the Japanese live a long time.
This longevity being due to the nutritional properties of tea.
The beneficial health effects of tea have been extensively investigated and have received a great deal of attention in recent times.
Tea contains plant polyphenols (also found in dark chocolate, strawberries, capers and basil) known as catechins, and flavonols that are classed as antioxidants. Antioxidants are anti-inflammatory and contribute to the body’s ability to fight disease – known as immunity.
They reduce the rate of the aging process and improve the regeneration of cells.
Let’s delve further into the benefits of drinking tea.
A point worth mentioning is that coffee also contains some antioxidants. However it also contains considerably more caffeine than tea, which can have a negative effect.
In 25g of green tea there is just 3.1mg of caffeine compared with 25g of Starbucks Coffee which contains 21.7mg of caffeine.
Tea helps to keep the body hydrated; whereas caffeine is a diuretic so coffee has the reverse effect.
Tea is the second most consumed drink in the world, after water and could be said to be healthier than water as it keeps the body hydrated whilst also providing the beneficial compounds.
Research shows that tea has a positive impact on brain health. This is due to the compound L-theanine which reduces fatigue, improves brain function and concentration. Long term intake of tea also increases reaction time and working memory and can reduce cognitive decline.
Caffeine, in coffee, is also shown to improve reaction time and reduce fatigue, however, caffeine is an addictive compound – classed as a drug which can interfere with sleeping patterns.
Reducing intake of caffeine can lead to headaches, and other symptoms of detoxification, so drinking tea is preferable to coffee for this reason.
“What about de-caffeinated coffee?” you may say, however, the method of removing caffeine from coffee involves chemicals which may leave residues which is not ideal.
In this day and age stress is unavoidable, however, anecdotally tea is associated with stress reduction. This is confirmed by research that shows regular consumption of tea lowers cortisol levels and aids recovery from biological stress.
Green tea and herbal teas are especially beneficial for stress reduction and particularly good at bedtime. Camomile is especially relaxing, so make putting the kettle on part of your bedtime routine.
Reduces risk of cardiovascular disease
Tea has also been linked to a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease as it prevents dangerous blood clots which are a primary cause of heart attacks and stroke. A Boston study recorded a 44% lower risk of cardiovascular disease when at least one cup of tea was consumed daily compared to not drinking tea.
Another long term study carried out in The Netherlands found that tea consumption was associated with a “lower risk of death from coronary heart disease and lower incidence of stroke”.
On the flip side no significant benefit has been shown between coffee consumption and cardiovascular disease. Once again making tea the superior choice health-wise.
As little as half a cup of green tea a day can help lower blood pressure with research showing a directly proportional relationship between tea consumption and reduction of blood pressure.
This was shown by research involving over 1500 participants and concluded that consumption of more than 120ml or more of tea per day over a one year period, significantly decreased the risk of hypertension. This is due to the flavonoid content of tea.
Tea’s benefits are not just limited to our heart and blood pressure; it is also proven to improve our digestion. For the past 5000 years, tea has been widely used in China as an after-meal drink to aid digestion as it stimulates saliva, bile and gastric juices responsible for digesting food.
However, it should not be drunk with a meal as tannins can affect the absorption of dietary iron. Food can also reduce the benefit of catechins so stick to green tea or ginger tea.
Whilst we are talking about ginger tea, ginger is especially good as it aids digestion and is anti-inflammatory. And ginger and lemon tea is delicious.
Improves dental health
Does the thought of a cup of tea bring a smile to your face? Well it should, as researchers have found that drinking tea could make that smile a little brighter.
This is because drinking at least three cups of tea a day can reduce your risk of tooth decay as tea prevents bacteria, namely streptococcus mutans and lactobacillus, multiplying and sticking to teeth which is the primary cause of tooth decay and gum disease.
This is backed by the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) who confirm that black and green tea reduce inflammation. The polyphenols in tea are also beneficial for oral health by reducing the incidence of bad breath.
The BNF also advise that green tea can aid weight loss due to the effect of boosting metabolism which then burns fat more efficiently. This benefit is specifically found with, the strangely named, Oolong tea.
Oolong tea is dried in a different way to black and green tea which means it maintains more of its ability to induce fat mobilisation, has a positive effect of fat metabolism and has higher anti-oxidant properties.
Obesity causes inflammation within the body and causes harmful substances called free radicals to be released. Anti-oxidants scavenge these free radicals and the compounds in Oolong tea and red tea are particularly efficient at this job.
As previously mentioned many of the health benefits of tea are due to its anti-oxidant content.
Green tea has been shown to help reduce inflammation in the skin decreasing the occurrence and severity of acne.
Green tea is also great for reducing insulin levels, which causes the skin to produce sebum, therefore fighting acne caused by hormonal imbalances.
Drinking green tea will also help the skin repair after an acne breakout as it helps support skin cell rejuvenation.
While we are on the subject of tea reducing insulin levels, a Dutch study carried out in 2009 indicates that drinking just three cups of tea can reduce the possibility of developing type 2 diabetes by 40%.
This is due to the ability of tea to improve insulin sensitivity but you must remember that it is also necessary to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and not have milk or sugar in your tea.
The plant polyphenols, specifically the catechins, are believed to give green tea its immune-boosting benefits.
Many studies have shown that drinking tea helps to fight off infection. One 2016 study by Japanese researchers, specifically stated that gargling with tea protects against the flu virus.
Tea also contains alkylamines (present in wine, mushrooms and apples too), organic compounds found in bacteria, cancerous cells, parasites and fungi.
Therefore drinking tea helps the body’s immune system to be able to identify these compounds and, in a similar way in which vaccines work, enable the body to activate its defence mechanism.
Protects against risk of cancer
Catechins have been shown to be protective against cancer by inhibiting the growth of tumours, having more antioxidant capacity than garlic, spinach and Brussels sprouts.
This has been found in studies relating to the reduction of cancer, including breast, prostate, skin, liver, lung and pancreatic cancer, due to the anti-oxidants in tea increasing the body’s immunity.
Statistics from The World Health Organization show that cancer is the leading cause of worldwide deaths with 12 million deaths predicted per year by 2030. The good news is that this could be prevented, in part, by drinking tea.
Research into the link between tea consumption and the prevention of cancer development includes a study of over 8500 Japanese adults over nine years, where all the subjects consumed at least 10 cups of green tea a day.
It was found that there was a protective effect, which was interestingly more prevalent in females, when compared to subjects that consumed less than 3 cups daily.
This effect was found to be less significant in Europe populations who generally consume black tea.
Improves bone health
Tea also has a beneficial effect on bones with several studies showing increased bone mass, strength and mineral density, especially in postmenopausal women who drank tea.
A Mediterranean study showed that both men and women over 50 who were tea drinkers exhibited a 30% reduction in hip fracture incidence.
This means that those at a high risk of osteoporosis should definitely drink plenty of tea.