Health Benefits of Tea
In 1990, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), an agency of the United Nations, announced the beginning of a worldwide campaign to encourage tea drinking, especially among young people. The FAO said in a statement: “Tea is not only a beverage representing no health risk, but it has also been determined medically that it helps prevent certain types of cancer, heart ailments and all diseases due to fluorine deficiencies.” The positive effects of tea drinking on health were stressed during the  meeting of delegates from 27 countries.
People have been drinking tea for thousands of years with no apparent ill effects. In fact, among third world cultures, boiling water for tea may have been responsible for certain number of disease prevention in itself. Taking the time to enjoy a cup of tea allows us to stop and relax amidst our busy, often stress-filled days. In addition to some obvious benefits, recent studies would suggest some more tangible health connections. Study after study over the past decade verify that all varieties of tea - black, green, oolong and white tea contribute greatly to a healthy lifestyle.
Tea and herbs have numerous health benefits at large. Powerful antioxidants which function as free radical scavengers, help to strengthen the immune system against degenerative diseases, and possibly aid the prevention of infections. Studies indicate that tea may protect against heart disease, cancer, arthritis, liver disease and osteoporosis. There is some evidence that drinking tea with a meal aids in digestion and reduces protein and calorie absorption. Tea may also lower blood pressure and cholesterol. An amino acid found in tea, l-theanine, is widely recommended for sleep and relaxation. The moderate amount of caffeine in tea (about 1/3 the amount in coffee) acts as a mild stimulant. The astringency of the tannins also is thought to settle mild gastrointestinal upsets. Tea is also rich in fluoride, and the Japanese have developed tannin-based toothpaste. Tannic acid is also thought to neutralize allergens such as dust mites, pollen and dust. Researchers have shown, for instance, that a 3% solution of tannic acid, sprayed on carpets and furniture, can reduce the level of cat allergen by 94%.
Of all the types of teas, Green teas present the most promising health benefits. Initial information about green teas was presented at the American Chemical Society’s convention in New York, NY in 1991. The materials from this symposium were later synthesized and presented in the New England Journal of Medicine. Basically the report stated that the polyphenols present in tea (and in greater strength in green tea than black or semi fermented tea) act as antioxidants and may combat ‘free radicals’ which can cause damage to healthy cells. Damage to healthy cells can result in degenerative diseases such as cancer. At that time, researchers stressed that studies have only been conducted on animals, not on humans. The research did not clarify how much green tea must be consumed on a daily basis in order to provide the desired effects. However, the same researchers noted that the incidence of smoking related cancer was much less among the Japanese who smoked than Americans, due to their large intake of green tea. Since the 1991 findings, research has continued in these areas with early evidence that the polyphenols in green, oolong and possibly black tea may reduce the risk of some kinds of cancer, notably skin, lung and stomach. Tannins present in green tea are thought to diminish the activity of tryssin, an enzyme which breaks down protein, and allows amino acids to become involved in energy and cell building. Green tea is particularly known for increasing the metabolic rate and possibly aiding in weight reduction.
In addition, some preliminary research also indicates that tea may also play a role in lowering blood cholesterol and reducing the formation of plaque in artery walls. Results from a Dutch study published in 1993, indicate that the flavinoids (antioxidants) present in black tea (and also in fruits, vegetables and wine) may be responsible for the reduction of arthereoslerotic plaques, thereby inhibiting related heart disease. A study of 903 Dutch men, who have a lower rate of heart disease, found them to consume on the average 3 ½ cups of tea, 1/3 oz. onion and ½ apple daily. Could the tea be keeping them healthy?
Lastly, many herbs and spices, used in tea blends, have been known for centuries for their medicinal properties as well. Peppermint aids digestion, chamomile promotes relaxation and sleep, rosehips and hibiscus have a high vitamin C content and South African Rooibos and Honeybush contain multiple vitamins and minerals. Tulsi, or Holy Basil, the scared Indian ayurvedic herb, has rich antioxidant and adaptogenic properties (containing anti-aging and stress relieving properties), which, promote wellness by enhancing the body’s immune system.
The fact that the world has embraced tea for centuries as its second most consumed beverage seems testimonial enough to tea’s importance to our health and addition to our daily diet. It is comforting however to see that there would seem to be scientific basis for the good feeling we get from the enjoyment of tea in whatever form we have it. Whether we sip the elegance of a fine Darjeeling in the quietness of a quaint tea room, or douse a summer thirst with a cold fruity iced tea, the experience of tea is always one of refreshment. We must not forget the little things in our quest to accomplish the big things. Tea is one of those pleasurable detours along our daily road which somehow renews our perspective, recharges our energies, and enhances our lives in so many ways. Let’s celebrate the past, dream of the future and have some tea – without any compromise.