Ah Tea… as it should be!
It’s remained one of the most common & popular beverages the world over for thousands of years. From Asia to Native North America, the poorest paupers to the highest queens and kings, people of all classes have been experiencing its delicious taste and healing benefits throughout the ages. And no less so today; with the variety of types, flavours and ways of consuming it (pure, as a latte, iced, etc) people are enjoying tea as much now as ever… maybe even more so!
It’s so easy too: just take a few leaves and/or flowers, sometimes infused with fruit, cocoa or other essences, steep in water and voila! You have the perfect beverage that not only hydrates (depending on which you choose), it can often provide amazing health benefits.
“What’s that?” you say – “Something I’m drinking every day is really that good for me?” You bet it is!
Black, Oolong, Green and White teas all come from the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis. The reason that green and white teas are so much more beneficial than black teas are on the health scale is that they are not fermented, which black tea is. Fermentation, while making a stronger cup of tea, removes much (but not all) of the antioxidant benefit. Green tea is simply dried tea leaves, while white tea is the dried buds, an even more delicate version with the same health properties. Oolong is partially fermented. Instead of the deep red-brown hue and intense flavour from black and oolong teas, green and white teas range from light green to yellow in colour and have a slightly astringent flavor close to the taste of the fresh leaf.
And though most tea has at least some health benefit, the green (and white) teas are the ones that shine as the superstars of them all. Tea is absolutely loaded with flavenoids and polyphenols (plant antioxidants that halt, reverse and prevent oxidative damage to your cells – see my previous post on antioxidants for more info). They in fact have over 10x the amount found in fruits and vegetables! The most acclaimed antioxidant is a catechin (technically referred to as Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate, aka EGCG), which is responsible for most of the health benefits. Catechins are more powerful than vitamins C and E in halting oxidative damage to cells.
At this point, it’s unclear just how much green tea you need to drink in order for to obtain all the benefit of the EGCG. EGCG isn’t highly available in the body and therefore not completely used. This means that for many health conditions, supplementation might be required to achieve optimal, highly available and absorbed amounts. Talk to your ND about whether supplementation is a good idea for you.
I recommend including green and white teas (usually as a beverage, but sometimes also in supplement form) to many of my patients for a few reasons: It’s a superb coffee substitute (the low caffeine content makes it ideal for those who need an energy boost/ “wake-me-up” beverage but without the buzz and other negative effects that coffee is known to impart) and for the reasons below is often just as a great addition to their daily routines.
If for no other reason, drinking tea means you’re not drinking sugar-laden pop or other un- or less-healthy beverages. It’s even a benefit over pure water, as water doesn’t contain the antioxidants.
So what makes simple tea so healthful, and in what is it known to help with? Listed here are just a few of the health benefits attributed to regular, daily consumption of green tea:
Cancer: Human studies that have shown that consumption of green tea daily (talk to your ND for good dosing) may inhibit cancer growth. This is because EGCG regulates and inhibits cancer growth, and kills cells that are growing inappropriately.
A study of Japanese women with breast cancer found that increased green tea consumption before and after surgery lowered their recurrence of the disease.
The risk of developing stomach, esophageal, prostate, skin, pancreatic and colorectal cancer were shown to be decreased in green tea drinkers in several studies out of China.
Lung cancer was also shown to be at an 18% lower risk for those who drank at least 2 cups of green tea in a recent analysis.
Cardiovascular health: Green tea helps lower total cholesterol levels, and also improves the ratio of good (HDL) to bad (LDL) cholesterol, as determined by studies done in Japan and in the Netherlands.
Additionally, it can help prevent blood clot formation, which is the leading cause of heart attacks and stroke. Green tea can also help lower blood pressure.
These benefits are due to the vasodilating effects of the antioxidants. Vasodilators help open up your veins as well as improve blood vessel flexibility. These help make them less vulnerable to clogging.
Brain Health: Green tea contains the amino acid L-Theanine which has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and have significant effects on mental function.
Specifically, L-Theanine has been studied for its potential ability to reduce mental and physical stress, improve focus, cognition as well as memory.
Additionally, studies have shown improved alpha brain wave activity, the state in which you are alert but not anxious or stressed.
L-Theanine also helps boost mood, this due to the fact that it has been found to increase dopamine. Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters (natural chemical messengers) in the brain, and is responsible for producing a sense of well being.
Antimicrobial: Those who regularly consume green tea have decreased rates of many infectious diseases, simple bacterial as well as viral infections.
Its antiviral and antibacterial properties help prevent and fight off influenza and common colds.
Those prone to gastrointestinal infections, H. pylori and altered intestinal flora can help fight and prevent these illnesses with regular green tea consumption.
Green tea may also help prevent tooth decay. Since bacteria are the cause of plaque and cavity development, the tea can help kill the bacteria!
Blood Sugar Regulation: This can be a boon for both individuals suffering high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), metabolic syndrome and diabetes as well as low (hypoglycemia).
Green tea (particularly it’s polyphenols) helps improve the function of insulin, which is to drive glucose from the blood into the cells.
Weight management & loss: It’s been shown that there are several ways that green tea helps improve weight management for many individuals:
Green tea helps increase the metabolic rate, which determines how quickly fat and calories are burned.
As previously mentioned, it lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol levels enhances HDL (good) cholesterol
Stress Reduction & Improvement of Mood and Energy: Green tea has powerful relaxant properties for the mind, as well as a very low level of slowly released caffeine that can help wake you up and revitalize you better than coffee can, and without the buzz.
Studies have found positive association with green tea consumption and a reduction in depression, possibly due both the flavenoid content, but also to the relaxation and energy-giving properties
Bone Structure: Green tea may help maintain the structure of your bones and delay the onset of osteoporosis.
Especially critical for peri- and postmenopausal women who’s declining hormone levels can put them at risk of thinning bone and resultant breaks.
Eye Health: Catechins in green tea provide powerful antioxidant effects in the eye thus helping prevent and possibly treat glaucoma and other common eye diseases!
Studies in China demonstrated how the lens, retina, and other eye tissues readily absorb catechins absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract. This effectively reduced oxidative damage in the eye, the primary cause of many common eye diseases.
Note that Green Tea does still contain a small amount of caffeine, so if you’re sensitive to caffeine or have difficulty falling asleep, don’t have too late at night!
Dr Katarine Holewa, ND