Tea and Health

By Bruce Richardson • Photography by Sarah Swihart

Tea’s role as a vital ingredient in a healthy lifestyle is getting more attention than ever as thousands of scientists across the globe study the link between tea and health. But the amount of information, often delivered in complex scientific terms and acronyms, can be overwhelming to health-conscious consumers who simply want to infuse tea into their daily routine. Let’s cut through the statistics and get to the highlights of what researchers have discovered.

Green tea is getting most of the attention these days because it contains a powerful antioxidant commonly known as EGCG. Antioxidants help eliminate free radicals, unstable molecules that arise naturally in our metabolism as well as from pollutants in the air. If free radicals are not controlled, they may damage cells and promote cancer or heart disease.

Drinking three or four cups of green tea, hot or cold, each day may contribute to a lower incidence of colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, early stages of breast cancer, and liver disease. An interesting observation during one study was that the viability of EGCG is prolonged when combined with citric acid. Green-tea drinkers may benefit from adding a teaspoon of lemon or orange juice to their teacup.

Is it true that tea can help you lose weight? Research shows that EGCG seems to boost metabolism slightly, and some studies indicate that the regular consumption of green tea may increase the body’s ability to burn fat during exercise. Tea will not melt fat from your body, but it can add to the benefits of good exercise and nutritional habits.

Another positive discovery is tea’s impact on skin care. Green-tea extracts are showing up in the ingredient list of more and more cosmetic lines as tests show that green or white tea may aid skin-cell rejuvenation and increase skin smoothness. It’s not the fountain of youth, but EGCG, when applied directly to the skin, may reduce the effects of sun exposure and air pollution on skin cells.

Black tea also has a healthy reputation. Studies suggest that flavonoids found in black tea show a positive influence on cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol and the buildup of plaque on artery walls. Black-tea flavonoids are similar to those found in other healthy foods such as apples, blueberries, red grapes, and cocoa. All are part of a healthy diet.

I’m often asked if the age of the tea makes a difference in its potency. The answer is definitely yes. Fresh tea is much more potent than bagged tea that has sat for months on a grocery shelf.

And what about those bottled green teas that tout their “healthiness”? One recent test on bottled teas showed that many contain only minute amounts of EGCG. Home-brewed tea will always be healthier and less expensive than ready-to-drink products.

It’s important to note that the health benefits mentioned apply only to true teas containing the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, not to herbs such as peppermint, chamomile, or rooibos. Herbs may be blended with tea leaves, but they are not the focus of the research cited here.

Government agencies are not close to labeling tea as medicine. The Food and Drug Administration has recently cautioned several tea companies about making overzealous health claims on their labels. We are able to say that tea can be an important part of a healthy lifestyle, along with good nutrition and exercise—all these work together. And don’t forget that because it calms and focuses the mind, tea has also aided meditation for more than 2,000 years. The ancient beverage is the perfect antidote to a noisy and often unhealthy world. What could be healthier than that?


Bruce Richardson’s is owner of Elmwood Inn Fine Teas and Benjamin Press. Read more at theteamaestro.com.

From TeaTime September/October 2011


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