If you don’t know flavonoids from l-theanine, or polyphenols from catechins, we’re here to help you understand exactly why tea is consistently ranked as among one of the healthiest things you can consume each day. Any honest nutritionist will admit that, with so many variables at stake, it’s vastly complicated to work out what effect different foods will have once they enter your system. But scientists around the world have been puzzling through the positive correlation between tea and health, and have unearthed some compelling evidence to explain why the elixir of tea has such a potent impact on the body. When it comes to long-term health, ancient Chinese wisdom is being verified by empirical science: Tea is king.
For the sake of consistency, studies are generally conducted with green tea extracts, and sometimes black and pu erh tea. Oolong and white tea are perhaps the least researched of them all. Due to the different processing which goes into making these teas, the chemical composition can be radically different. Thus every tea comes with its own characteristics, so we recommend enjoying a variety of tea types to reap the full array of health benefits that each can provide. What’s more, not all tea is created equal. Studies have shown that bottled tea pales in comparison to freshly brewed, particularly when accompanied by the liberal dose of sugar which many drinks manufacturers add. Furthermore, there are serious advantages of drinking loose leaf over tea bags, as levels of antioxidants tend to be much higher in the latter. Make sure you go for SGS-tested teas as well, to ensure levels of residual chemicals and heavy metals fall well within the allowable limits.
We don’t want to blast out all the same old clichés and hyperbole revolving ceaselessly on the web about tea and weight loss and health (see this as a dreadful example). Tea is NOT going to magically shrink your waist overnight. We’re all smart enough to know there’s no one-stop miracle cure, and effective weight management and a healthy body calls for a long-term approach, tightening up your exercise regime and being more mindful about what you put in your body.
However, if you’ve got your eye on the long-haul ride of health and happiness, tea is a fantastic ritual to build into your daily routine.
So let’s take a look at the facts. We promise no miracle cure bullshit.
1 – A Caffeine Kick up the Butt
Caffeine has been proven to be an amazing boost to your workout regime. It prompts a thermogenic response by jumpstarting the process of lipolysis, which is when your body releases free fatty acids into your bloodstream. This temporarily speeds up your metabolism and enables you to burn more calories. Studies have shown fairly conclusively that a burst of caffeine in tandem with a workout can be a very effective boost to your performance, allowing you to train at a higher intensity or for longer, enhancing your endurance and resistance to fatigue. (Source) The gentle dose of caffeine in tea could be just what you need to push you onto that treadmill in the morning and keep you there.
2 – Natural Nectar
Food experts are now pointing to sugar as one of the greatest evils in the modern diet, blaming the excessive sugar levels that the food industry sneaks into our diet for the rising levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Sugar causes your body to go into a state of orexigenesis, causing your body to think that it’s hungry and needs to store energy, because the insulin your body releases to deal with the increase in your blood sugar blocks the signals of the hormone leptin, which regulates your body fat.
While people like Robert Lustig are launching a public war on sugar, it’s probably time to take heed and look at your own relationship to the stuff. Perhaps sugar might be at the source of your own bad food habits, crushing your best dieting intentions. If that is indeed the case, tea can be your perfect partner in your battle against the bulge as you cut out those unnecessary sources of sugar and ween yourself off your subconscious addiction. The natural sweetness in tea could be just the thing to calm those cravings, without any negative repercussions.
What’s more, the polyphenols in tea help your body to regulate blood sugar levels, by improving the sensitivity of cells to metabolize blood sugar, boosting insulin levels and inhibiting the enzyme amylase which breaks starch down into glucose. Therefore, drinking tea each day can help to ward off the onset of Type Two diabetes, and, when taken in conjunction with medicine and careful diet regulation, can also help sufferers of diabetes to stabilize their blood sugar levels.
3 – Immune System Gold
Tea is a rich source of vitamins and minerals, essential for maintaining a healthy immune system which can fight off infection and virus. Of course, these can also be sourced from consuming a wide range of fruits, vegetables and other nutritious food. But particular components within tea also prime the immune system to attack invading bacteria, viruses and fungi. In particular, on study isolated and tested the amino acid l-theanine, which is broken down in the liver to ethylamine an alkylamine antigen molecule that “primes the response of an immune system element called the gamma-delta T cell.” This cell is recognized as the “first line of defence” against many diseases and “even have some anti-tumor activity.” Furthermore, the host of polyphenols within tea, including flavonoids such as catechins, theaflavins, tannins have also been shown to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects.
4 – Heavenly Hydration
Many of us tend to drink less water in a day than our body really needs, despite the fact that even small levels of dehydration can adversely affect both our mental and physical performance. What’s more, we also unwittingly take in huge amounts of calories with our fluids – in some countries beverages can account for as much as 20% of our daily calorie intake. Thankfully, tea is 99.5% water, calorie-free and delicious, so we can load our bodies up with vital H2O without any need to worry about our waistlines. And even though caffeine within tea and coffee acts as a diuretic, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that it leads to dehydration since the diuretic effect is completely balanced out by the intake of fluids. So if you’re urinating more than usual when you start drinking tea, take it as a good sign that your kidneys are functioning happily.
5 – Streamlined Focus
The amino acid L-theanine also has another magic trick up its sleeve: it has amazing effects on your mood and cognitive function. Combined with a gentle boost of caffeine, a dose of L-theanine has been shown to increase promoting alpha brain waves, which relaxes the mind without inducing drowsiness, and enhances your capacity for paying attention to tasks and efficient task switching. This leads to a slow-burning session of concentrated calm and alert focus. This chemical is rarely occurring in nature, only two other known sources have been identified, including a mushroom called Boletus badius, and a plant called guayusa. So if you’re looking for something to get you through a studying session, an intense business meeting or a prolonged workout, a cup of tea could be just the trick to keep you on track throughout. Doctors also suspect this is why self-professed tea lovers report feelings of calmness and contentedness when they’ve got a cup at hand, and some are even considering prescribing a brew to those suffering with anxiety issues, as a boost alongside their usual treatments.
L-theanine levels are found in particularly high concentrations in shade-grown tea, or oolong teas grown in the high mountains, where the mists shade the leaves from the full glare of the sun. This slows down the process whereby sunlight converts amino acids into polyphenols. This is also thought to lend high mountain teas that distinctive umami, brothy flavour, and also a natural sweetness, since polyphenols are associated with bitterness.
Improving mental clarity and work performance, as well as overall happiness? If you suffer from gym attention deficit disorder (or GADD – if that isn’t a medical term, it should be), oolong tea could be the extra boost of focus you need to drive you over the finish line of that 10km treadmill run.
6 – A Happy Heart
Numerous studies and surveys show a clear link between regular tea consumption and a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. It is thought that the polyphenols in tea can help block the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol, increase HDL (good) cholesterol and improve artery function. These powerful antioxidants have anti-inflammatory effects on plaque build-up in the bloodstream and arterial walls. Furthermore, regularly drinking tea can lead to significant reductions in blood sugar levels and triglycerides, an increase in HDL cholesterol levels, and increased blood levels of antioxidants, which can protect against oxidative stress and inflammation. (Source) A cup of tea a day may reduce the risk of stroke and heart attacks by 8-10%, and combined with a healthy diet can help to ward off heart disease and significantly lowers blood pressure. Overall, the key health message here is to drink tea frequently over a pro-longed period in order to wreak the positive benefits for your heart health. Although of course that doesn’t excuse you from a lack of exercise or smoking.
6 – Fight Against Cancer
Obviously a sensitive subject and an incredibly complex disease, nevertheless, more and more studies are proving the link between lifestyle and diet with cancer. It turns out, aside from unavoidable environmental factors, a key contributor to one’s likelihood of developing cancer are your daily lifestyle habits.
Believe it or not, those innocuous sounding little flavonoids in tea are actually also linked to the powerful anti-carcinogenic effects of tea drinking. Studies have shown that these antioxidants may help in the battle against free radicals to prevent or delay the formation of tumours, even possibly preventing them from growing and spreading through the body. For example, the of risks mouth, lung, breast, ovarian, prostate, bladder, skin and gastrointestinal forms of cancer have all been identified as potentially being reduced by regular tea consumption according to the results of meta analyses. Of course, we’re not suggesting that tea is a miracle cancer cure, but ongoing research is yielding some hopeful results. In this regard, regular tea drinking may be a good cautionary measure for people without cancer, and also a complementary treatment in conjunction with traditional measures for those afflicted with it.
7 – Relaxation Rituals
Perhaps one of the most potent aspects of tea drinking, quite apart from the chemical contents of the leaves, is that the very ritual itself is a relaxing and soothing process. Neuropsychology is beginning to prove the radical effects that mindfulness practices can have on the brain and body, and the tea ritual is a perfect embodiment of a meditative act. Either shared with a friend or taken alone, tea for many of us represents those quiet moments in the day which are completely our own, uninterrupted by the external stressors of work and family commitments. And aside from the incredible health benefits, in the long-term, meditation can help you to set your intentions, become more diligent and focused in your manner of running your live your life, more mindful of how you spend your time, and more in tune with your inner self. So what are you waiting for? Get the kettle on already!
So… Brew Like a Boss
It’s no passing coincidence that the Japanese, who hold the record for the highest average life span (for women it’s a ripe old 86.4 years) are knocking back cupfuls of green tea every day. We hope that this article thoroughly convinced you that the growing body of evidence out there truly does support tea as one of the healthiest things you can add to your diet. It’s not just a bunch of health quacks and self-proclaimed nutritionists making up old wives tales. From everything to your heart and weight-management, to a short-term boost of focus and calm, brewing up a cup or two of tea each day for breakfast, those long office hours, or even as a pre-workout energy boost, can be a fantastic addition to your day. So whatever corner you’re fighting in the world, rest assured that tea has got your back.
(Disclaimer: too much tea is a bad thing. Don’t overdo it. It can interrupt your sleep, harm your stomach, and lead to dizziness and heart palpitations – “tea drunk” is a real thing, we’ve been there. As always, everything in moderation is a good rule of thumb, three to four cups a day should be plenty to wreak the health benefits without any nasty side effects)