I Feel Tea-rrific: How My Tea Addiction Can Help My Health

By: Sydney Carter ’13, Wellness Communications Assistant

Photo Credit: Luz Bratcher

Lots of people have addictions or obsessions. Some are constructive, like keeping a DVD collection in alphabetical order; others are dangerous, such as alcoholism; and then there are the ones that make a person unique, like only wearing the color pink. Mine is rather steamy.

I cannot go a day without at least one cup of tea. Usually, I kick-start my day with a cup of unfermented Camellia sinensis leaves steeped in hot water, more commonly known as green tea. (In fact, I am currently enjoying Tazo Zen green tea as I type!) If I need a pick-me-up due to a negative mood or overall exhaustion I brew partially fermented leaves, oolong tea, or fully fermented leaves, black tea. When stress overwhelms me or illness threatens to overtake me I brew an herbal tea. Herbal teas do not come from the Camellia sinensis plant as the other three popular varieties do; these teas are made from herbs, fruits, seeds or roots.

As Teavana’s tea history states, tea was discovered sometime before 1000 B.C. in the Yunnan Province of China, and its original use was medicinal. It wasn’t until the Tang Dynasty in 618 A.D. that tea became a popular drink throughout China. Today it is the most widely consumed beverage in the world, second only to water, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Roughly 165 million cups of tea are consumed a day, according to the United Kingdom Tea Council’s fact sheet on the nutritional value of tea.

There is a reason for all the hype around tea. It can be good for your health. Tea is brimming with antioxidants called polyphenols. These polyphenols fight free radicals in the body that can cause damage to cells and tissues. Each variety brings something different to your mug. The more the leaves are fermented, the lower the polyphenol content and the higher the caffeine content, so green tea has the highest polyphenol content while black tea has roughly two to three times the caffeine content of green tea, according to UMD’s Medical Center.

It is recommended that people enjoy two to three cups of green tea per day (the equivalent of 240 to 320 mg polyphenols) for maximum health benefits, according to UMD’s Medical Center. One study concluded that three cups of tea a day has approximately the same antioxidant power as eating six apples, according to the United Kingdom Tea Council’s fact sheet on tea and antioxidant properties.

Now what can these polyphenols do for your health?

1. Cholesterol: One population-based clinical study found that men who drink green tea are more likely to have lower total cholesterol than those who do not. (UMD Medical Center)

2. Cancer: Early clinical studies suggest that polyphenols, especially those in green tea, may contribute to the prevention of cancer. Polyphenols can help kill cancerous cells and even stop them from growing, some researchers believe. (UMD Medical Center)

3. Cardiovascular disease: Black tea and green tea are linked to a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke. (Mayo Clinic’s Women’s HealthSource)

4. Cavities: Green tea destroys bacteria that can create nasty cavities. It also helps prevent plaque formation that can mask teeth’s pearly white shine. (Mayo Clinic’s Women’s HealthSource)

5. Diabetes: Traditionally, green tea can control blood sugar levels, and may help regulate glucose in the body. (UMD Medical Center)

6. Skin irritations: Cooled black tea can treat sunburn, while a cooled brew of the herbal tea, chamomile, might soothe itchy poison ivy. (David Tao, Greatist)

Tea can even enhance your emotional and spiritual well being as well. When Zen Buddhist monks brought tea to Japan from China for spiritual purposes (which led to the creation of the tea ceremony that is still a significant part of Japanese and Chinese culture today) they had the right idea. Sipping tea can be a tranquil mindfulness practice.

“A way to practice mindfulness is to pay close attention to your perceptions, as you do simple, everyday activities,” said Ann S. Williams, PhD, RN, CDE in her four part column series. “Many people who do this regularly report they sense profound changes in the quality of their lives. The good feelings and happiness they experience day to day are greatly increased, and their negative reactions to stressful times are greatly decreased.”

Whether you take the time to sip green tea with mindfulness or grab a cup of black tea on the go it is important to always remember that the effectiveness of tea as a remedy is not guaranteed and certain risks exist. Tea could react negatively with or inhibit conventional medicine. It also could cause negative effects for certain individuals. As Jennifer LaRue Huget of The Washington Post’s “The Checkup” blog wrote, “Until supplements are better understood by Western science, prudence dictates that we approach them with caution — and that we be vigilant in reporting our use of them to our physicians and pharmacists, who can be on the lookout for potentially harmful interactions.”

Share with us!

Do you have a favorite tea? When do you choose to brew? How does tea fit into your wellness routine?

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