Tea and Herbal Tea Health Benefits
East or West, drinking tea has been regarded for years as key to health, wisdom, and happiness. In fact, tea is second to water as the most widely consumed beverage in the world. Up to now, scientists are still determining the many health benefits of various types of tea. Current findings suggest that some teas may help prevent or treat certain diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, promote weight loss, increase immune function, and improve mental alertness.
Experts, including Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RD, LD, spokeswoman of the American Dietetic Association, say that there does not seem to be any downside to tea drinking, which provides a healthy alternative to drinking coffee. Tea has a lower caffeine content compared to coffee and it has certain compounds called flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties that are good for the heart and may help prevent cancer.
Types of Tea and their Health Benefits
People often refer to various brewed products as “tea,” but traditional tea, which is derived from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, consists mainly of black, green, and oolong tea. Others also include white tea and pu-erh tea, and the differences between these lie in how the tea leaves are processed. The plant is a shrub found in India and China and it is believed to contain potent antioxidants (flavonoids). Antioxidants are natural substances that may help fight against free radicals, which are products of metabolism that are associated with heart disease, clogged arteries, cancer, and other diseases. All these teas contain theanine and caffeine, which can increase mental alertness.
Aside from the traditional teas, many people also use herbal teas, which are technically speaking, not teas at all, since they have plant sources other than Camellia sinensis. Herbal teas come from some combination of dried flowers, fruits, and herbs. These teas usually do not contain caffeine, and are therefore considered by some to be healthier than other types of tea, especially for people who have medical conditions that prohibit them from taking stimulants such as these.
Studies suggest that there are several potential health benefits from tea:
- Green tea. This tea is made from steamed unfermented tea leaves, which has the highest concentration of antioxidants or polyphenols. These substances fight free radicals, which damage DNA and change cells, sometimes even causing cell death. Scientists believe that these free radicals play a role in the aging process and in the development of several health problems, such as heart disease and cancer. Polyphenols in green tea seem to neutralize free radicals and may help prevent damage to cells.
Traditional Chinese and Indian medical practitioners use green tea as a diuretic, which helps the body get rid of excess fluids, a stimulant, and an astringent, which helps heal wounds. It is also used to control bleeding, improve cholesterol levels, prevent damage to arteries, and to promote heart health. Other traditional uses also include regulating body temperature, reducing blood sugar, treating gas, promoting digestion, and improving mental health. It is believed to burn fat, combat stress, and reduce one’s risk of brain disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, as well as stroke. Studies suggest that green tea antioxidants may interfere with the growth of certain cancers such as breast, lung, bladder, pancreatic, stomach, and colorectal cancer.
- Black tea. This tea is made from fermented leaves and has the greatest caffeine content. Other flavored teas (ex. Chai) and instant teas are made from black tea. Studies show that black tea may protect the lungs from cell damage caused by cigarette smoke and may reduce your risk of stroke.
- Oolong tea. Also made from fermented tea leaves, oolong tea has been shown to have antioxidants that help reduce bad cholesterol levels. Some manufacturers therefore market some varieties of oolong tea as a supplement for weight loss, but more evidence is needed to support these claims.
- White tea. This tea comes from unprocessed and unfermented tea leaves. One study found that this tea has the most potent properties against cancer compared to processed tea.
- Pu-erh tea. This tea is made from aged and fermented leaves and is considered a variety of black tea. Animal studies show that pu-erh tea may reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and prevent weight gain.
- Herbal tea. This is tea comes from herbs, seeds, fruits, flowers or roots of various plants. Herbal teas have chemical compositions vary widely, depending on the source. They also have lower amounts of antioxidants compared to green, black, white, or oolong teas. Popular herbal teas include ginkgo biloba, jasmine, chamomile, ginger, ginseng, hibiscus, mint, rooibos, rosehip, and echinacea. Although there is limited evidence on the health effects of herbal teas, many claim that they help reduce weight, prevent colds, and promote relaxation and sleep.
Other findings include:
- Chamomile tea has antioxidants that may help avert complications of diabetes, such as vision loss, as well as nerve damage and kidney damage. It may also help prevent cancer cells from growing.
- Hibiscus tea has been linked to lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension.
- Echinacea has been associated with effects that help fight common colds.
- Rooibos (or red tea) comes from a fermented South African plant. It is believed to contain flavonoids that have anti-cancer properties.
Health experts warn that herbs may contain active substances that can trigger side effects or interact with other medications or health supplements. People should take herbs under their doctor’s supervision.
People who have heart problems, high blood pressure, liver problems, kidney problems, stomach ulcers, or psychological disorders are advised not to take green tea. It is also not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women. People who have anemia, glaucoma, diabetes, or osteoporosis should consult their doctors before drinking green tea.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
WebMD. Types of Teas and Their Health Benefits. http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/tea-types-and-their-health-benefits
Fox News. 6 healthy types of tea. http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/04/26/6-healthy-types-tea/