Tea is delightful and soothing, but is it good for you? Are there any health benefits to drinking tea?
As a tea drinker who is also concerned about my health, and especially preventative health considering my family history of heart disease and other diseases, I was interested to know whether all the tea I drink has benefits beyond just hydration. Is tea good for you? I was happily surprised by what I discovered.
The answer is an emphatical yes. Various types of tea could help prevent or relieve the symptoms of a number of diseases from Type II diabetes to rashes.
So how does it work?
Tea vs. Tisanes
First we need to establish the difference between tea from the tea plant- Camellia sinensis- and herbal teas- also known as tisanes. Though all may provide health benefits, the science behind those benefits are not the same for the two types.
So let’s start with tea.
According to legend, the leaves of the tea bush, Camellia sinensis, have been used to make tea in China since 2700 BCE. Since then the drink has spread around the world. The plant thrives in equatorial regions, where the stable weather conditions make it easy to grow throughout the year. Though there are different varieties of tea plant (Chinese and Assam) the most important variation in terms of the final product is in the fermentation process.
White tea is made from the little white buds of the leaves that form before they open, and is the least processed of all the types of tea. Green tea is made of mature leaves, and also unfermented. Hence, its distinctive green color. Oolong tea is semi-fermented, and finally black tea is fully fermented.
The final chemical properties of each type of tea are mostly a function of the type of processing they have gone through. Black tea goes through a four-part processing process. First it is withered. Next, the tea leaves are rolled and twisted. Then they are fermented- giving the leaves their distinctive reddish color and complex taste. Finally the leaves are dried.
Oolong tea follows much the same processing as black tea, but with a shorter fermentation time. Green tea is not withered or fermented at all. The leaves are quickly steam-blasted or roasted immediately after picking. They are then rolled and dried.
But what does the processing process have to do with health benefits?
A lot, actually.
It all comes down to antioxidants and amino acids.
Free Radicals and Antioxidants
The human body exists in a very delicate balance. Systems, organs, and body chemistry all have to work in concert to maintain a healthy body. On a molecular level, your body needs both free radicals – oxygen-containing molecules with an extra electron- and antioxidants – molecules that are able to donate an extra electron without becoming unstable – in order to function. It is not that free radicals are inherently unhealthy, or that antioxidants are inherently healthy, but rather that your body needs a precise balance of the two to function properly.
The problem becomes when there are more free radicals in your body than there are antioxidants, causing oxidative stress. In a state of oxidative stress, the free radicals can start damaging your fatty tissue, DNA, and lipids. Over time this can lead to a large number of diseases – diabetes, inflammation, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even cancer.
There are many things that may contribute to the buildup of free radicals in your body- from pollution and cigarette smoke, to consuming too much fat and sugar. Luckily, there are many ways in which you can also increase the number of antioxidants in your body. One of the most efficient ways is to eat foods that are high in antioxidants such as berries, dark leafy greens, citrus fruits, tomatoes, turmeric, onions, garlic, and yes, tea.
When it comes to tea, the less the tea leaf is processed, the more antioxidants it has in it. So, looking back at the process of creating teas, we can see that white tea and green tea will have higher levels of polyphenols- types of antioxidants found in plants – than will black or oolong tea.
And indeed, the consumption of white and green tea has been associated with quite a few health benefits. There is research to suggest that it can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, while raising HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and lower triglycerides and blood pressure. In addition, it may be anti-carcinogenic, helping to prevent liver, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers.
All of this does not mean that there are no antioxidants in black and oolong tea. To the contrary, black and oolong tea are high in flavonoids – a type of polyphenol. Flavonoids help combat inflammation and provide immune support. In fact, if you have a rash or have had a bad encounter with poison ivy, it is those flavonoids in black tea that could make a black tea bath a source of welcome relief.
Not Just Antioxidants
As mentioned above, it is more than just the antioxidants in tea that make tea good for you. L-theanine is an amino acid – (a product of the withering process) found in tea. It is responsible for the deep, umami flavor of tea. It is also responsible for the sense of relaxation that comes with drinking a nice cuppa- as the British would say. L-theanine has been found to potentially decrease anxiety and increase alertness and feelings of well-being.
In addition, some studies suggest that L-theanine could help prevent some cognitive diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Unlike antioxidants, black tea has been found to contain more L-theanine than do green or white tea. However, too much milk in your tea could lower the amount of L-theanine, so if you do take your tea with milk, make sure not to pour in an overwhelming amount.
Likewise, many of the health benefits of tea can be negated by drinking tea that is too full of sugar or other additives. Bottled iced green tea, or a green tea latte will do you no good if it is loaded with sugars and carbs, no matter how much tea there is in it. In addition, so-called “weight loss teas” should also be avoided. They are simply teas laced with laxatives that may be harmful to your health.
Herbal Teas, or Tisanes
The number of varieties of herbal teas, or tisanes, are almost infinite. Many of them have health benefits. Here are some of the more common ones.
Peppermint tea can be helpful for a number of stomach ailments including constipation, an upset stomach or irritable bowel syndrome. It may also help relieve the pain of migraines.
Chamomile tea can help improve sleep, and relieve anxiety. In addition, research suggests that it may help prevent heart disease, provide immune system support, and protection against some cancers. In addition, it may also help women who suffer from premenstrual syndrome.
Ginger tea is known to help with morning sickness, and general nausea. In addition, it may also help relieve the pain of osteoarthritis.
Rooibos tea may improve blood pressure and circulation, provide allergy relief, and improve cholesterol. Likewise, it can help keep your skin and hair looking nice and healthy.
Hibiscus tea is thought to lower blood pressure, improve liver health, and may help to prevent kidney stones. It may also have antiviral properties.
Some studies suggest that sage tea helps with cognitive function in people with Alzheimer’s, and helps improve mood and memory in people with normal cognitive functions. In addition, one small study indicates that it may improve blood lipid levels.
Rosehip tea is high in vitamin C and other antioxidants. Like tea from the tea plant, it may help reduce inflammation. In addition, those anti-inflammatory elements may have an anti-aging effect on skin.
Like chamomile tea, passionflower tea could help reduce anxiety and may help improve sleep.
Finally, another general benefit of herbal teas is that they are completely caffeine-free, and so you do not have to worry about being unable to sleep after having a nice cup of tea.
Drink To Your Health
Tea is one of the world’s most popular drinks. It is consumed daily by millions of people around the world. Fortunately, it is also good for you.
The world we live in is loud, polluted, and can wear a healthy body down. Drinking tea will cure no diseases, but it can help your body maintain itself, or even help relieve the symptoms of chronic diseases. It can help you relax and de-stress and put away the worries of your day.
So no matter what type of tea you like to drink, you can drink it knowing that you are doing something good for your mind and your body.
Follow Up Reading
Below are some helpful websites and studies if you’d like to do some further reading on the health benefits of tea.
Tea – General Information
Herbal Tea – General Information
Harvard Health Publishing:
Regarding Tea and Alzheimer’s:
The Benefits of Green Tea:
The Benefits of White Tea:
Check Tea with Milk: Classic and Trendy And Learn More about Tea.