Time for Tea
By Becca Newell
Growing up, my mother, sister, and I would have a cup of tea every afternoon following school. We’d sit and sip the steaming black brew while sharing stories of our day. It’s a ritual we didn’t retire until we left home—even after moving from England to America, where tea-drinking is seemingly more popular in the summertime, served ice cold with a slice of lemon.
Still, hot tea is much more than a British afternoon pastime. Established and emerging research suggest tea leaves and some herbal varieties offer a host of health benefits. Take a cue from a (former!) Brit and make a little time in your day for tea.
Teas derived from the Camellia sinensis plant—like black, green, and white teas, among a few others—are rich in catechins and polyphenols, which boast antioxidant properties.
“The highest polyphenol concentration is found in brewed hot tea, less in instant preparations, and lower amounts in iced and ready-to-drink teas.”
—According to the National Cancer Institute
Research suggests consumption of green tea can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, increase HDL cholesterol—the “good kind”—and improve artery function. A meta-analysis of 13 studies found that participants who drank the most green tea had a 28 percent lower risk of coronary artery disease than those who drank the least amount of green tea. As a major source of oxalate, which can cause kidney stones, green tea consumption should be limited to no more than five cups of green tea per day, according to preliminary reports.
Ginger is widely touted as having antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, and anticancer properties, but research isn’t extensive enough to generate a consistent report. The most well-established use of ginger is as an antiemetic—or a substance that helps to alleviate nausea and vomiting. Several randomized trials suggest ginger consumption in pregnant women is effective in treating nausea with few adverse side effects.
Like green tea, white tea is made from the Carnellia sinensis plant, but unlike green tea, it’s made from the plant’s buds and young leaves. Since it’s minimally processed, white tea is thought to have the most potent anticancer properties, although more research is necessary. According to a 2010 study published by the National Institutes of Health, “white tea extract increased a specific type of cell death in laboratory cultures of two different types of non-small cell lung cancer cells.”
While there are limited clinical trials of peppermint tea, research from animal studies suggest peppermint may offer a relaxation effect on gastrointestinal tissue, chemopreventive potential—agents that inhibit cancers from developing—and analgesic, or pain relieving, properties.
Preliminary research suggests hibiscus tea may decrease blood pressure in people with mildly to moderately high blood pressure. There are other, limited studies that suggest the tea is beneficial in controlling cholesterol.
Along with green and white tea, black tea is made from the leaves of the Carnellia sinensis plant and contains the highest amount of caffeine of the three teas. Recent data suggests the polyphenolic compounds of black tea are associated with preventing cardiovascular diseases and, like green tea, may have cancer-preventative effects. One study of women found that those who regularly drank black tea had a lower risk of ovarian cancer than those who don’t drink it. Black tea consumption has also been linked with anti-aging and anti-diabetic health benefits.
Thought to have antiviral and antioxidant effects, there are several animal studies of Echinacea that suggest consumption can boost immune function and reduce inflammation. The tea is touted as a preventative aid to the common cold, though research is contradictory—some studies show Echinacea can help to prevent a cold from developing and reduce its duration; however, other research found no difference in symptoms.
The dried flowers of chamomile have been used for centuries for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. There are a few studies that have associated drinking chamomile tea with increased antibacterial activity, which leads to a stronger immune system and helps to fight cold infections. Preliminary research also suggests chamomile may be helpful in managing diabetes.
As one of the most popular flavored teas in China, jasmine tea is said to have similar antioxidant and anticancer properties to its green tea leaf base (it’s made by blending green tea leaves with jasmine petals). One study found an inverse relationship between the higher frequency of tea consumption and the risk of developing esophageal cancer, yet another found no evidence of the tea’s protective effects against esophageal or gastric cancer. However, animal studies have shown consumption contributes significantly to lower blood and liver cholesterol.
Scientific reports suggest inhaling lavender may promote relaxation, helping to reduce the symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, stress, and depression. The beneficial aroma is released when preparing lavender tea. Lavender may also benefit digestive issues—one study in rats found that lavender oils prevented gastric ulcers from forming and relieved indigestion.
Though generally recognized as safe by the FDA, discuss adding teas to your diet with your doctor to avoid any adverse interference with current medications.
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